The 2008 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 10, 2009.
An 18-month investigation by the weekly newspaper resulted in the publication of a shocking report of misuse of public funds, illegal political contributions, non-approved and non-verified expense allowances and suspicious international missions by the CEGEP of Saint-Hyacinthe. The investigation triggered an investigation by the Auditor General of Quebec and recommendations for improved governance at CEGEPs.
Your Excellencies, Madam Chief Justice, Mr. Humphreys (President of the Michener Award Foundation), Finalists, Ladies and Gentlemen.
June 10th 2009 is a great day in the long and rich history of Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, the preeminent French-language newspaper in North America, founded in 1853. It is with great pride that our seven journalists – yes only seven – accept this nomination for the prestigious 2008 Michener Award.
Our journalistic investigation, initiated in the fall of 2006 and carried out in a climate of intimidation, that included being served with legal notices on three occasions, and culminated in the release of an explosive special report entitled: Le Cégep de tous les excès (A CEGEP where excess reigns supreme). We were able to reveal such excesses as wasteful spending of public funds, illegal political contributions, fake agencies, unaudited extravagant expense accounts, and suspicious international transactions.
Locally, over the course of our 18-month investigation, these revelations resulted in the executive director’s resignation, the dismissal of the Student Office’s director and the early retirement of the International Liaison Bureau’s director at the CEGEP of Saint-Hyacinthe. In Quebec, our investigation raised a good many questions about public administration and the rules of governance in place at public colleges across the province.
Inspired by the Courrier’s reports, Renaud Lachance, the Quebec Auditor General, conducted an in-depth review of related party business relationships at all CEGEPs in Quebec. An entire chapter of the 2008-2009 Report of the Auditor General of Quebec, tabled in the National Assembly, was devoted to the Auditor General’s findings and recommendations.
Mr. Lachance certainly underscored the quality of our work. I quote: “As a result of your articles, many people opened their eyes and changes were made in control and auditing measures.”
The Government of Quebec, through the Minister of Education, followed up on our investigation and the Auditor General’s concerns by tabling Bill 110 to amend the General and Vocational Colleges Act with respect to governance. Among other things, Bill 110 seeks to increase the transparency of colleges and the accountability of their boards.
As you can appreciate, our reports clearly had a significant impact on the public good. It’s not every day that a regional weekly newspaper publishes special reports that have such a far-reaching impact, up to and including an intervention by the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General and the Minister the Education with the tabling of a bill. That is exactly the feat we accomplished despite extremely limited resources.
Finally, I would like to thank the judges of the Michener Awards for this recognition that goes straight to my heart. I wish the best of luck to all the finalists who work in the defense of the public interest. For me, there are only winners here tonight.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 10, 2009