Quebec Premier apologizes to agronomist who blew whistle on pesticide study

Ombudsman report concluded province's agriculture department failed to follow whistleblower law; employee fired after disclosure of wrongdoing

Quebec Premier Francois Legault apologized Friday to a whistleblower who was fired after going public with concerns about the pesticide industry's influence on public research.

Legault said the government will do what it can to return agronomist Louis Robert to the public service and compensate him.

His apology came a day after a report from the Quebec ombudswoman's office concluded the Agriculture Department had not respected the law on whistleblowers and after Agriculture Minister Andre Lamontagne, who announced Robert's firing last January, refused to apologize.

The report concluded there were serious violations in the way the department handled the whistleblower's disclosure of wrongdoing and that precautions weren't taken to ensure Robert's actions remained confidential.

Legault said his apology to Robert was on behalf of the Quebec state, and he defended his agriculture minister amid attacks from opposition parties, telling them it wasn't up to Lamontagne to see whether administrative procedures were followed.

``It's the responsibility of the deputy minister,'' Legault said during question period. The deputy agriculture minister resigned over the matter Thursday.

But Pascal Berube, interim leader for the Parti Quebecois, reminded the premier that Lamontagne had told reporters during a retreat in January that he'd fired Robert. Lamontagne later retracted that statement.

During that same January briefing with reporters, Lamontagne had also suggested there were other factors that led to Robert's dismissal, something Legault had also invoked.

In question period Friday, Pierre Arcand, interim Liberal leader, asked Legault: ``You have tarnished Mr. Robert's reputation on the basis of your minister's hearsay, is that really worthy of a premier?''

Robert, a seed expert, spoke out against private-sector interference in a public study on pesticide use. He was fired for transmitting a confidential document to a reporter and for contravening secrecy obligations.

The union representing Robert has confirmed the agronomist is interested in returning to his position.

Latest stories