Outraged by CEGEP administrators’ large entertainment expenses, Quebec unions have demanded that Bill 44, a provincial law to increase transparency, accountability and reform CEGEP spending, be brought back to the National Assembly’s agenda.
A February 2 article in the Journal de Québec revealing the spending patterns of CEGEP administrators sparked the controversy. According to the newspaper, entertainment expenses in 2010 – including conferences in luxurious hotels in Brazil, Guadeloupe, and Europe – amounted to at least $324,000 dollars.
Léo Bureau-Blouin, the president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), called the spending “extraordinary” and “excessive.”
“They were talking about five-star hotels to hold meetings of the CEGEP Federation, or trips to Europe, or in Morocco, that could have been avoided,” said Bureau-Blouin. “We think that it was a lot of money that could have been spent on more priority aspects of CEGEPs.”
“In many regions of Quebec, there are great needs for psychologists, or for classes, or for new computers, and we are seeing that CEGEP administrators were making trips to, like I said, Morocco, or to China,” he added.
However, CEGEP representatives have criticized the accuracy of the Journal de Québec accusations.
“We found that this article is incorrect, that it is false on many respects,” said the CEGEP Federation director of communications Caroline Tessier in French. “There is some information that is not fair, or that in any case implies negative things that are not the reality. I am thinking for example of everything concerning international trips. This is part of CEGEPs’ mission, so it is normal for them to travel abroad.”
Nevertheless, FECQ and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) – a union representing nearly 180,000 members, including over 100,000 education personnel – have used the controversy to push for the adoption of Bill 44.
Bill 44 was first introduced to the National Assembly on October 30, 2008, to tighten rules regarding the financial management of CEGEPs, by increasing transparency and accountability. However, after two years of detailed study and numerous amendments, the bill has stalled.
“We also think that by making public the meetings and the statements of administrative councils, it will be much easier to follow the activities of CEGEPs,” said an adviser for the CSQ, Gabriel Danis, in French. “So it’s for this reason that we were making the link between the frivolous expenses that were revealed in the newspaper and Bill 44.”
It remains to be seen whether the bill will be re-introduced to the National Assembly.
“We think that we really need to have clear rules about how we spend money that comes from the Quebec government that is given to CEGEP students, because we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that are given to Quebec CEGEPs,” said Bureau-Blouin. “We can’t wait anymore and we hope that the ministry of education will hear our calls.”