University of Moncton criticized over PR contract

The University of Moncton is getting a lot of heat over a public relations contract awarded to a company owed by the previous university president's wife.

When Yvon Fontaine served as the University of Moncton's president, the university hired a public relations company owned by his wife, Réjeanne Blais.

A Radio-Canada investigation has revealed Blais's company received more than $200,000 for her work.

Fontaine said the contract was above board, but some — including Marie-Noëlle Ryan, the president of university's Professors' Association — want to know more about the details.

Fontaine ran the University of Moncton for 12 years. For the last eight years of his mandate, his wife's company had a contract with the university. That doesn't sit well with Ryan.

“It's very shocking and disturbing,” she said.

The company's contract began with the university began on July 9, 2004. It ended when Fontaine retired as president in 2012.

Public records show that Blais CP Incorporated registered as a company one week beforethe contract was signed.

Moncef Lakouas, president of the university’s student union, said that raises some suspicion.

“The fact that the company was incorporated — and on top of that by the spouse of the president — it puts too many doubts for us to say is that contract legit,” he said.

Blais's job was to organize receptions, mainly at the home she shared with her husband in Shediac.

She was to develop and maintain the university's relationships with dignitaries and philanthropists.

The company's own financial records show it billed the university for nearly $220,000 over the eight-year contract.

“What was happening? If there were actually receptions, who was going there? We want to know about the bills that were paid or charged to UdeM for catering and other services. We have so many questions that we still didn't get answers for,” said Lakouas.

Lakouas said this is a conflict of interest which shows a lack of transparency from administration.

Raymond Lanteigne is the new president of the university's board of governors. He said the board, at the time, must have thought Blais's company was legitimate.

But he said, that kind of arrangement they had at that time, wouldn't have been granted today.

Blais and Fontaine have refused interview requests.

But in correspondence with CBC News, Fontaine said "the university proposed the idea, formulated the contract and signed it with the approval of the board of governors, after having undertaken a study indicating that, in the Maritime region, homes were generally provided as part and parcel of a university president's benefits."

His predecessor had a home provided to him by the university, he said.

However, his predecessor Jean-Bernard Robichaud issued a statement saying that while he lived in a home owned by the university between 1992 and 2001, he paid rent.

The rent was increased three times during the term of the lease, from $800 per month, to $1,000 and then to $1,100, he added.

The university sold the house after his departure, Robichaud said.

Correction : An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that former university president Yvon Fontaine had given the public relations contract to the company owned by his wife, Réjeanne Blais and that Blais was on the payroll. In fact, the contract between the university and Blais’s company was proposed and approved by the university, with the approval of the board of governors. (May 02, 2014 4:24 PM)