Ethics commissioner suggests Quebec MNAs in a conflict of interest when they debate their salaries
The Quebec national assembly's ethics commissioner Ariane Mignolet argues that the fact that MNAs are debating their own salaries can raise issues of conflict of interest.
"We can see that the current situation of MNAs debating and expressing their views on their own working conditions seems to have been raising questions for some time now, particularly with regard to the general rules on conflicts of interest," said the commissioner in a letter sent in response to a request from Solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
Marissal wrote to the commissioner on May 24 asking her to look into the fact that he could potentially be in a conflict of interest when he took part in the debates on Bill 24, which will increase the salary of MNAs from $101,561 to $131,766.
However, she says she cannot give an opinion on this specific issue, as it concerns all 125 MNAs in the national assembly.
WE HAVE A "DAMN PROBLEM"
However, the Commissioner points out that the debate on MNAs' salaries raises issues of conflict of interest in relation to sections 15 and 16 of the
"Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Members of the National Assembly."
Article 15 states that an "MNA may not place himself in a situation where his personal interest may influence his independence of judgement in the exercise of his office."
Section 16 states that an MNA may not "act, attempt to act or fail to act in such a way as to further his personal interests. Similarly, he may not use his office to influence the decision of another person for the same purpose."
"Sections 15 and 16 of the Code are key provisions in the area of conflicts of interest," writes Mignolet in her letter.
"What she is saying is that we have a damn problem with the way we do this with regard to sections 15 and 16. I can see a certain unease on her part," Marissal told The Canadian Press in an interview.
CHANGE THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE
"It has been mentioned on several occasions that the fact that parliamentarians determine their own working conditions entails a real risk of conflicts of interest," wrote Mignolet in her letter.
The Ethics Commissioner said that she -- and her predecessor, Jacques Saint-Laurent -- both suggested the establishment of an independent, decision-making committee to determine MNAs' working conditions in reports.
"I myself have reiterated the importance of providing for an independent mechanism in this regard, which 'would make it possible to comply fully with the ethical rules enshrined in code, and would strengthen the confidence of citizens in their elected representatives,'" she wrote in her letter.
In her 2019 report, Mignolet recommended that "the national assembly should consider setting up a permanent independent committee with decision-making powers on the working conditions of MNAs."
"In this regard, I have invited parliamentarians to study this report and to consider the recommendations made in it, including the one relating to the establishment of working conditions for MNAs, precisely in order to avoid this type of reflection being held in the middle of a legislative debate on the issue," she wrote.
Mignolet also pointed out that the report, which the government is using as a basis for raising MNAs' salaries, points to the ethical issue of MNAs determining their own working conditions.
The report states that "the appearance of conflict of interest remains an issue whenever MNAs' working conditions are discussed. The creation of a standing committee with a mandate to periodically review the working conditions of MNAs could undoubtedly lessen this issue and allow MNAs to maintain a greater distance from this question."
"The bill implements the report of an independent committee whose recommendations become binding," Government House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette's office said in response in writing on Monday evening.
Mignolet declined to be interviewed by The Canadian Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 6, 2023.