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Pierre Fitzgibbon out as economy minister in wake of ethics report

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. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon has resigned, Premier François Legault announced Wednesday, after the province’s ethics commissioner called for him to be suspended from the legislature over an ongoing conflict of interest.

In a report tabled Wednesday, ethics commissioner Ariane Mignolet concluded that Fitzgibbon had repeatedly refused to follow the conflict of interest provisions of the ethics code for elected members by continuing to hold shares in two companies that do business with the government, ImmerVision and White Star Capital Canada.

Mignolet recommended that Fitzgibbon be suspended from the legislature until he either divested himself of those shares or resigned from his role as a cabinet minister and placed those shares in a blind trust.

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

Legault told reporters in Quebec City that Fitzgibbon is an “honest man” and the two companies didn’t receive any advantages from the government.

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“I am very disappointed,” he said. “There was no conflict of interest, but the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Legault said selling the shares in the two privately held companies would cost Fitzgibbon at least $1 million.

“He wants to sell his shares, but it’s impossible for him to sell them at a reasonable price. I don’t think we can say to someone: there’s a price to pay, $1 million, to become a Quebec cabinet minister,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

Fitzgibbon will remain a member of the legislature, but he will not place those shares in a blind trust because that will not allow him to give an order to sell the shares, Legault said.

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Legault said his party, which has a majority in the national assembly, will vote against the ethics commissioner’s report for that reason. Any sanctions would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority.

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Legault said Fitzgibbon could return to the cabinet once the situation is resolved.

Finance Minister Eric Girard will take over as economy minister.

Fitzgibbon was absent from the legislature’s sitting Wednesday morning and the press conference announcing his resignation.

Fitzgibbon has faced four investigations by the ethics commissioner, and in November he became the first Quebec cabinet minister to be censured by the members of the legislature for ethics violations.

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