Provincial audit finds irregularities in awarding of contracts by EMSB

A preliminary report from an audit by the provincial Treasury Board leaked to the media suggests the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has been routinely skirting the rules when it comes to the awarding of public contracts.

The audit looked at EMSB contracts awarded in 2017 and 2018.

It found the board appears not to have followed the rules in the awarding of $44 million in contracts.

"I'm surprised and a bit shocked," Treasury Board President Christan Dubé told reporters outside the National Assembly Wednesday.

"I want to have the reaction of management now that the auditors have found those examples," Dubé said. 

"Why did you do that?"

Legality of split contracts in question

The general rule in Quebec is that public contracts worth more than $25,000 should be subject to a call for tenders, to encourage competition and get the best price for the public's tax dollars.

Sylvain Roy Roussel, CBC

The audit found that on several occasions the EMSB appears to have failed to do that.

Dubé said there were other irregularities, as well.

"In certain cases, contracts that were in excess of $25,000 have been divided in parts, to make sure they were below the $25,000 mark," Dubé said.

"This is typically something that is illegal — that is not following the rules."

Despite those irregularities, Dubé said he feels it's premature to ask the province's anti-corruption unit, UPAC, to investigate the EMSB.

"I don't think that's appropriate until we get the reaction from EMSB management and members," he said.

A spokesperson for the EMSB said Wednesday afternoon that the board will take the time to consider its response carefully.

EMSB vs. CAQ

This is the latest development in an increasingly tense relationship between the province's largest English-language school board and the Coalition Avenir Québec government.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has already mused about putting the EMSB under trusteeship, after another report released last month revealed a dysfunctional culture and a lack of leadership.

The CAQ government has tabled a school board reform bill that would end elections for French-language school boards and change the structure of English-language boards.

The EMSB is threatening to challenge that legislation in court.

The board has also voted to launch a legal challenge of the new secularism law that prevents newly hired teachers from wearing religious symbols on the job.