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Quebec’s economy minister violated code of ethics and should be reprimanded, commissioner says

Quebec Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon outlines the rules for a reopening of some commercial activities during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, looks on.
Quebec Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon outlines the rules for a reopening of some commercial activities during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, looks on. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon has violated the national assembly’s code of ethics and must be reprimanded, the province’s ethics commissioner said in a report.

The province’s MNAs will have to vote on the recommendation to reprimand Fitzgibbon by commissioner Ariane Mignolet, who, in her report Thursday, attributed several failings to the minister in relation to his exchanges with his friend and lobbyist Luc Laperrière.

She criticized Fitzgibbon for having placed himself in a situation where his personal interest could influence his independence of judgment in the exercise of his office, because of his close ties with Laperrière.

“When occupying a position like that of minister, it is fundamental to clearly draw the line between his personal and professional relations,” she wrote. “In light of the above, I recommend that a reprimand be imposed on the minister.”

Read more: Quebec economy minister defends himself against ethics allegations

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In her report, Mignolet also notes that Fitzgibbon maintains that he has not committed any breach of the ethics code.

“I do not note any real desire to change,” she adds, which she says contributed to her decision to recommend a sanction against the minister.

In a press conference Thursday at the national assembly, Fitzgibbon briefly acknowledged what he described as “perhaps imprudence.” However, he said he does not believe he “lacked judgment.”

Mignolet’s investigation began in 2019. It concerned the holding of interests by Fitzgibbon in certain companies and sought to determine whether he had complied with the rules relating to conflicts of interest and the declaration of interests.

Click to play video 'Quebec’s economy minister under ethics investigation' Quebec’s economy minister under ethics investigation
Quebec’s economy minister under ethics investigation – Apr 24, 2019

The Parti Québécois said it suspected Fitzgibbon of having given instructions to the administrator of his blind trust — which is prohibited under the code of ethics — to sell his interests in a plant protein company.

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The commissioner had also received a request from Québec solidaire for an investigation concerning the appointment of Guy LeBlanc as president and CEO of Investissement Québec (IQ), given the ties of friendship between Fitzgibbon and LeBlanc.

Mignolet found that Fitzgibbon did not violate the code by appointing LeBlanc.

On the day of LeBlanc’s appointment, Premier François Legault said he wanted to change the rules on conflicts of interest of his ministers, attracting sharp criticism from the opposition.

Read more: Quebec’ ethics commissioner opens probe into economy minister

Legault said he wanted to increase the 60-day period granted to a minister to divest himself of his interests in a company or entrust them, for example, to a trust.

When asked about the ethics commissioner’s report on Thursday, Legault pointed to Fitzgibbon’s inexperience in politics.

“He has had his lesson,” he said. “The fact that you are talking about it in the media, I think that is the worst reprimand you can wish to have.”

In English, he admitted that he was “furious” when he read the report of the ethics commissioner Wednesday evening.

With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise

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