QUEBEC – Quebec’s former international relations minister threatened Tuesday to sue his successor if she doesn’t retract suggestions he abused the public purse with his frequent trips to France.
Jean-François Lisée is giving Liberal cabinet minister Christine St-Pierre a week to respond or he’ll sue her for defamation.
Lisée’s wife and children live near Paris and he visited them during missions and trips to the French capital during the 18 months he held the post.
He insisted at a news conference in Quebec City that he paid for all expenses related to his personal activities, including the use of a driver.
Lisée didn’t give any specific amounts but promised to do so if the matter goes to court.
St-Pierre raised doubts last week about the integrity of her predecessor, saying he abused his official trips to France.
She specifically questioned the frequency of his visits to the country, which she counted as 11 in 18 months.
Lisée said he participated in five official missions to France and six in other destinations which involved a stopover in Paris. He said he also travelled to the United States five times.
He criticized St-Pierre for spreading what he called false information with the goal of smearing his reputation for political gain.
“It is unacceptable,” Lisée said of her comments. “She made statements that are flat wrong on the facts.”
Flanked by his wife, Sandrine Perrot, and interim PQ leader Stéphane Bédard, Lisée also accused her of dragging his family into a public debate, which he said was unacceptable.
He argued that Pierre Arcand, who was international relations minister in Liberal Jean Charest’s government, went to France more often than he did when Arcand held the job between 2008 and 2010.
He also took issue with suggestions that trips to Africa, China and Japan, for which he made stopovers in Paris, weren’t pertinent.
“These missions netted $110 million in contracts for Quebec companies,” Lisée said.
Lisée argued he actually saved the government money because the routes with the Paris stopovers were cheaper than flying to some of those destinations through Vancouver.
He said he also travelled economy class on one trip when he returned with his family from Paris.
Lisée, who met his wife in Montreal, said they are involved in a long-distance relationship because she found a dream job as a researcher in Paris.
Perrot said it was important for her to be present with Lisée at the news conference and that his integrity is “really beyond reproach.”
“I was shocked that my family could be used for political purposes and so I think it’s really necessary for the minister to retract and present an apology to our family,” she said.
In a statement later on Tuesday, St-Pierre said she raised “legitimate” questions about Lisée’s trips and that she never mentioned his family in her remarks.
“If he felt, in any way whatsoever, that his private life was being attacked, that was not at all my intention,” she said.
“The respect of the personal lives of elected officials is of paramount importance to me.”
St-Pierre said she was only doing her duty after various documents concerning Lisée’s trips came to the attention of her department when they were being reviewed at the government level last June 30.