Montreal mayor expected to recommend OCPM president's dismissal

OCPM president Isabelle Beaulieu told Montreal's finance committee there should have been more oversight. She acknowledged the need for change.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
OCPM president Isabelle Beaulieu told Montreal's finance committee there should have been more oversight. She acknowledged the need for change. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante will recommend that the municipal council dismiss the president of the city's public consultation agency and freeze its funds.

This comes after Isabelle Beaulieu, president of the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), was put in the hot seat Friday, grilled by the city's finance committee during a hearing. She admitted she has made mistakes.

"I recognize them. I accept them," said Beaulieu. "Our practices must be changed and governed by clear and written rules. I commit to doing so."

The finance committee hearing was called in response to allegations of OCPM spending between 2014 and 2021 — spending that included international travel, fine dining, electronics and furniture, all on the public's dime.

On Monday, the woman who headed the agency for those years, Dominique Ollivier, resigned as chair of Montreal's executive committee. The councillor for Vieux-Rosemont said she had faced a steady backlash about her previous position after an investigation by the newspaper the Journal de Montréal revealed the OCPM's controversial spending under her leadership.

The OCPM is tasked with hosting public consultations in Montreal on big decisions such as the closure of Camillien Houde Way over Mount Royal.

The agency continued to spend thousands after Ollivier left her post. Beaulieu, who assumed the presidency in February of 2022, said she relied on her predecessors' ways of spending on restaurants and travel for guidance, though she made an effort to reduce expenses.

'Everything was managed arbitrarily': Beaulieu

Among the spending revealed, $280,000 was spent in 2022 on renting office space for about a dozen employees.

"Yes, we had work meetings in restaurants, like my predecessors. We are putting an end to this practice," she said.

It has been revealed that two employees with auxiliary status received their six per cent vacation amount each pay cycle, even though they took three to four weeks of paid vacation per year. She said this is another practice she put an end to.

"There was no code of ethics, everything was managed arbitrarily," Beaulieu said. "I clarified office attendance rules, vacation policy, work rules. The project is vast, but it is in progress."

Beaulieu said she is focused on reviewing human resources, workplace culture and the code of ethics. She told the finance committee there should have been more oversight, and she acknowledged the need for change and transparency.

Ollivier also answered the committee's questions on Friday.

"During my seven years as president, the costs related to this type of expense represented less than $20,000. I understand the citizens who find the amount to be large, but it is a global figure which covers a period of seven years," she said.

Ollivier said Montreal's charter recognizes the right for commissioners to be reimbursed for their expenses, including meal costs. On the other hand, the council resolution that was unanimously adopted in 2014 provided that the presidency was entitled to $4,000 in representation expenses, she said.

In light of what has been said in recent weeks, it is clear that we need to review control mechanisms to ensure that they function properly and prevent excesses and abuses, as well as ensure public trust in our institutions," Ollivier said.

Plante calls for president's dismissal 

After the hearing, Plante told reporters that there was a clear breach of trust on behalf of Beaulieu, and she will recommend that the city council dismiss her has president.

"We are going to do a thorough cleaning," said Plante, describing Friday's testimonies as "extremely shocking."

The finance committee will table a report at the municipal council next Monday, when there will be a vote of confidence on Beaulieu.

Montreal's Official Opposition party released a statement Friday, calling on Ollivier to be removed from the Projet Montréal caucus, and said Beaulieu must be removed from her post.

"It makes no sense that Valérie Plante has not already done so, by calling an extraordinary meeting of the municipal council," said Aref Salem, head of Ensemble Montréal, in a statement.

Salem said he is outraged Ollivier "didn't have the decency" to tell the executive committee about this excessive spending.

"Theft of time, arbitrary management, laxity: the revelations surrounding Dominique Ollivier, who did nothing to correct this mismanagement despite warnings from the Auditor General in 2017, are scandalous," he said.

On Monday, as Municipal Affairs Minister Andrée Laforest said Ollivier was right to resign, she also pressured Beaulieu to step down, saying it was clear she should no longer lead the OCPM given the "breakdown of trust" with the public.