Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced Wednesday that allegations of mismanagement at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) are under investigation.
The education minister has mandated the inquiry after years of allegations about wrongdoing, including contracts being handed out without the proper tendering process and serious ethical violations.
Last December, EMSB Chair Angela Mancini was found guilty of four breaches of the board’s code of ethics.
“These allegations are troubling and serious,” said Roberge.
“We must take action. In the best interest of the EMSB and, of course, its students, parents, staff and the community. It’s our duty to act quickly.”
In 2016, the province’s anti-corruption squad, UPAC, began an investigation into the board’s finances and its international vocational school.
Tensions ran high in November of that year when Mancini and then vice-chair Sylvia Lo Bianco, lobbied to have Lo Bianco’s brother-in-law named assistant director of school organization.
“Some of the issues are very problematic and the previous Liberal government refused to address them,” Roberge said.
“They needed to take action and they didn’t have the courage to do so.”
WATCH: Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge outlines the allegations against the English Montreal School Board, including the alleged inappropriate use of assets in return for favours.
The EMSB released a statement Wednesday to say it has “absolutely nothing to hide” and it will fully co-operate with the province’s investigation.
The investigation comes as the provincial government is preparing to abolish school boards entirely.
During Roberge’s press conference on Wednesday, the minister insisted the investigation has nothing to do with that plan.
“Launching this inquiry and transforming school boards into service centres are two totally separate issues,” he said.
“It’s not my concern that it’s an English school board or a French school board. It’s important for me to guarantee to all the citizens and people in Quebec that each dollar they give to the system is well administrated.”
In a statement to Global News, QESBA President Dan Lamoureux said “the situation at the EMSB is of concern, therefore an examination by a qualified outside party will help all concerned to adopt any corrective measures if necessary.”
“Governance and operational issues in public bodies at all levels of government, while regrettable and unacceptable, do occasionally arise and they must be dealt with appropriately,” he said.
“The distinction, as made by the minister during his news conference, must be made between a situation at any given school board and the broader public policy issue of school governance reform.”
The findings of the report are expected for Sept. 10, but Roberge said investigators have been mandated to inform him of any findings that may require immediate action.
‘I’m a bit skeptical’
After the minister announced the probe, the parents of students at the school board weighed in on the move Wednesday afternoon.
Monica Mendoza said she thinks the investigation is fair in order to ensure everything is being handled correctly at the EMSB.
“It’s due diligence, right?” she said.
“Whether they find something or not, that’s a different story and I would be disappointed if something comes out.”
Liane Schinasi questioned the province’s timing.
“I’m a bit skeptical,” she said. “I’m not sure — given the fact I know about their ideas about closing the school board — what their intentions are behind the investigation.”
“Obviously as a taxpayer I want to make sure my money is going to the right place.”
— With files from Global’s Elysia Bryan-Baynes