Ethics commissioner threatens to sanction economy minister over financial ties
Quebec Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon responds to the opposition during question period at the National Assembly in Quebec City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
MONTREAL -- Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon's troubles may not be at an end.
The province's ethics commissioner, Ariane Mignolet, said the cabinet minister may be exposed to heavy penalties, such as the suspension of his right to sit in the National Assembly, if he does not quickly regularize his financial situation.
Mignolet didn't set a deadline but said Fitzgibbon would not end his mandate without having cleaned up his financial interests in accordance with the spirit and letter of the parliamentary ethics code.
In December, after a long investigation, Mignolet concluded the minister had committed multiple ethics breaches and should be sanctioned by the National Assembly. But the government did not endorse the recommendation.
However, Mignolet said she has not said her last word on the subject and that she has the power to introduce sanctions on elected officials who don't abide by the code.
“It is the elected official's responsibility to comply with the code,” she said. “When you're a member of the National Assembly, it's one thing. When you're a minister, it's another. It's normal that it's stricter (for a cabinet member).”
In her report, Mignolet in particular criticized Fitzgibbon for not divesting his stake in two of the 13 companies in which he had invested, as the companies conducted transactions with the government.
Fitzgibbon defended himself, saying some stakes were difficult to sell without taking a loss.
“I think I have no choice,” but to force the minister to comply, Mignolet said.
She noted Fitzgibbon also placed himself in a conflict of interest by intervening with Investissement Quebec, an organization for which he is responsible, in relation to a request for financial assistance made by a company in which he had financial interests.
With the support of Premier Francois Legault, Fitzgibbon has called on the code of ethics for parliamentarians to be relaxed, calling it “obsolete.” The administration is currently planning to table a reform bill.