The release yesterday of simultaneous reports by Canada's Auditor-General and her Quebec counterpart reveal not only a pattern of abuse and improper spending by Lise Thibault, the former Quebec lieutenant-governor, but a scandalous failure of accountability by two levels of government which in 10 years never saw fit to call her to account for her reckless habits.
The reports' revelations include $129,000 that was double-dipped from the federal government for living expenses already covered by the government of Quebec, $14,000 for meals "taken near the former Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec's personal residence, for which we could not find any link to official duties," and fishing, ski and golf excursions that again appear to have had no official purpose. In one case, $4,000 was billed for a reception to celebrate the birthday of a family member. It all speaks to a callous disregard for the taxpayer and an attitude of l'état c'est moi.
But Ms. Thibault, whose term ended on June 7, was not the state, and she need only have looked to the example of the Queen, whom she represented in Quebec, for a lesson in fiscal probity and transparency. The Queen's expenditures are excruciatingly detailed and are posted online. (The disclosures of the cost of royal travel by rail and air alone total 33 pages.) Why was Ms. Thibault allowed to get away with such behaviour for so long? Because the two levels of government were fully complicit in the mess. For example, had they spoken to each other, at least they would have caught the expenses that were claimed twice.
Even after the federal government established new rules in 2002 requiring supporting documents for any expense claim, Ottawa continued to reimburse for purchases when such documentation was not forthcoming, including for "gifts" totalling $45,000. As the federal Auditor-General reports, by reimbursing Ms. Thibault for "questionable and unsupported expenses" Canadian Heritage "implicitly approved her spending practices."
The disgrace that has attached itself to Ms. Thibault is a tragedy for taxpayers, but also for Ms. Thibault, who had actually made something of what is arguably the most thankless vice-regal post in the Commonwealth. A tireless hard worker, she exemplified the attributes of "personality and savoir faire" that her website argued are the most valuable assets of the job. And because she uses a wheelchair, Ms. Thibault became a role model for the disabled not only in Quebec but across Canada. But it is hard to see how this fine legacy can survive the double blow of the auditors' reports.