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Quebec MNAs were in apparent conflict of interest by increasing their own salaries: ethics commissioner

Ethics commissioner Ariane Mignolet speaks during an interview, Thursday, June 22, 2023 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Ethics commissioner Ariane Mignolet speaks during an interview, Thursday, June 22, 2023 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
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Quebec MNAs placed themselves in an apparent conflict of interest by voting to increase their own salaries, says National Assembly Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet.

She believes it would have been preferable for a binding independent committee to set the salary of the elected officials. Members of the National Assembly voted themselves a $30,000 salary increase last June.

Mignolet was asked whether this could have created the appearance of a conflict of interest. The commissioner asserted that elected officials could at least have postponed the increase until after the next election.

"My first recommendation is that it shouldn't be the MNAs (who vote their own salaries), but as long as they have done so, it's certain that by adopting a measure that becomes enforceable in a future legislature, it obviously removes a good part of the perception of conflict of interest. When it comes to the next legislature, none of them is sure of coming back. Some won't run again. Some won't be elected," said Mignolet on Tuesday, on the sidelines of special consultations on her report, which aims to tighten conflict-of-interest criteria.

The report recommended the creation of an independent mechanism to determine the working conditions of MNAs. The commissioner had to wait four years after the document was tabled to be heard by MNAs at the National Assembly.

The commissioner had already raised reservations about parliamentarians debating their salaries last June. At the time, Vincent Marissal, MNA for Québec Solidaire, asked Mignolet whether this situation placed elected representatives in a conflict of interest. At the time, the commissioner indicated that she could not give an opinion on this specific question, as it concerned all 125 members of the National Assembly.

During Tuesday's private consultations, Mignolet returned to this issue, explaining that the code of ethics "is not designed to put all MNAs in breach."

BETTER SUPERVISION OF SOCIAL MEDIA?

Mignolet also indicated that she wanted to look into the use of social media by MNAs.

"The code of ethics applies to the exercise of your office and allows the use of state property and services for the exercise of your office, which excludes partisan activities," she explained to elected representatives on Tuesday.

It should be noted that the report she presented did not specifically address social networks. Mignolet indicated that they could be the subject of recommendations in her next report, to be tabled in about a year's time.

"It's a subject I'm looking into, but I'm not ready to draw any conclusions," she said.

"We're finding that the closer we get to an election period, the more the content gets mixed up, and it's hard to tell the difference," she said. According to her, a citizen who follows an elected official on Facebook, for example, may have difficulty knowing whether he or she is expressing himself or herself as the representative of a riding, a minister or the leader of a political party.

"The Code does not currently include specific provisions for social media, but it does apply to all communications made in the course of an MNA's duties, including online communications," said Anne-Sophie St-Gelais, communications advisor at the Office of the Ethics Commissioner.

The commissioner also reiterated her desire to make ethics training mandatory for elected officials. Mignolet deplored the fact that members of the National Assembly are not sufficiently aware and informed of the ethical issues that concern them.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 21, 2023.  

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