As Quebec's minister of "colonization" during the Depression of the 1930s, Irénée Vautrin launched an ambitious program to encourage city families to migrate to outlying rural regions and clear land for farms to support themselves by growing their own food.
But what Vautrin is most remembered for still is charging his department $10 for a pair of breeches he bought to wear on tours of inspection of potential settlement sites in the bush.
The expense was discovered, along with other examples of waste and corruption on the part of the Liberal government, by Maurice Duplessis, leader of the Union Nationale opposition.
"Les culottes à Vautrin" became what Duplessis's biographer Conrad Black called "a symbol of this government and the licence it felt it enjoyed over the public's business." Duplessis's supporters taunted the Liberals by hoisting pairs of trousers on poles, and soon after the discovery of Vautrin's pants, the Union Nationale brought an end to 39 years of uninterrupted Liberal rule.
In politics, they say that ridicule kills, and that when they start laughing at you, you're finished. And it's often the small stuff that does the most damage because it's easy for people to understand and form an opinion about it.
Stuff such as a minister charging the government the equivalent today of about $160 for a pair of pants.
Or a government agency putting a quarter of a million dollars of what is supposed to be risk capital for investment in the Eastern Townships into what its website describes as a "pet resort for urban dogs and cats" in Montreal.
This week we learned that the dubious investments made under the government's FIER regional investment-fund program include $250,000 in Hôtel Muzo.
On its website, www.hotelmuzo.com, the exclusive (for dogs and cats only) hotel says it offers air-conditioned, soundproof rooms with television and webcams, raised eating bowls for dogs and daily litter-box replacement for cats.
There's limousine service, a gym with "reduced impact rubberized epoxy flooring," and a "top of the line grooming salon to ensure a pleasant and stress-free experience!" Day packages for relaxation, fitness, "beauty" and "makeovers" are offered.
Look, I love animals. But if there is a demand for an $80-a-night "presidential suite" for dogs, then a Ritz for Rex should be able to make it on its own, without government money for which there are more pressing human needs.
And I'm not just saying that because Hôtel Muzo requires that all male guests be neutered.
Comedian Robin Williams once said that "cocaine is God's way of telling you you're making too much money." So the investment of a quarter of a million dollars in public funds in a spa for the spayed must be Her way of telling us that we're paying too much in taxes.
But when Agnès Maltais of the Parti Québécois raised the Hôtel Muzo investment in the National Assembly this week, Raymond Bachand, who is minister of economic development as well as finance, accused her of disrespecting pet owners as well as service industries.
"I think she doesn't care about animals," Bachand said. "I hope the millions of Quebecers who own dogs and cats are listening to the member for Taschereau." Bachand said it with a straight face and no sign of tongue in cheek. But unseen by the Assembly television cameras, Premier Jean Charest and other Liberals struggled to suppress laughter.
We'll see who laughs last, however. The PQ is alleging not only that public funds were wasted on the Hôtel Muzo, but also that they have been diverted to Montreal away from the regions where they are needed more - and where elections are decided.
The danger for the Liberals is that, like "Vautrin's pants," the story of "Bachand's pets" will have legs - twice as many of them, in fact.
Liberals should watch their steps around pet hotel
The saga of the Doggie Inn has legs, and could spell troubles for government