December 8th 2020 - Today, the President of the National Assembly tabled an inquiry report from the Ethics Commissioner regarding the Minister of Economy and Innovation and Member for Terrebonne Mr. Pierre Fitzgibbon (the “Minister”). The report focuses on the Minister’s disclosure of private interests, his holding of interests in companies whose shares are not traded on a stock exchange or other organized market (“unlisted companies”) and an intervention with Investissement Québec with regard to a financial assistance application submitted by a company in which the Minister holds interests.
In light of new information obtained in the course of the investigation, the inquiry was expanded twice. This inquiry, whose initiation was announced in April 2019, was divided into two parts, the first of which was the subject of a report tabled in October.
The Commissioner concluded that the Minister was in violation of section 51 of the Code of ethics and conduct of the Members of the National Assembly (the "Code") by not disclosing his management companies and certain other information required under section 52, that is, the presence of ties between the State and two companies in which he held interests.
As regards the holding of interests in three unlisted companies, the Commissioner determined that the Minister was in violation of section 46 of the Code. Indeed, the Minister failed to divest himself of his interests within the prescribed time and ensure that these companies abstained from entering into any contracts with the State. For two of these companies, the Minister had the opportunity to normalize his situation while the investigation was being conducted, but he chose not to. Through section 46, legislators made a deliberate and conscious choice to strictly regulate Cabinet ministers’ holding of interests, direct and indirect, in unlisted companies. Therefore, compliance with this section of the Code sometimes requires that Members make certain financial sacrifices.
Lastly, the Commissioner concluded that the Minister was also in violation of section 15 of the Code by placing himself in a situation where his private interests might have impaired his independence of judgment. More specifically, in carrying out the duties of his office, the Minister instructed an Investissement Québec manager to reject a financial assistance application filed by a company in which the Minister held interests he did not want to divest himself of. This event occurred even though the Minister knew that he was under investigation for his holding of interests in the company and that the Commissioner had explicitly advised him against it.
Recommendation regarding a Sanction
For all these situations, the Commissioner recommends that the Minister be reprimanded. As regards section 46 of the Code specifically, the Minister is in an ongoing breach nearly two years after the expiry of the prescribed deadline for compliance. Of the sanctions that the Commissioner may recommend, the only one that provides an incentive to correct the problematic situation is a suspension of the Member’s right to sit in the National Assembly until he is in compliance. The Commissioner nonetheless believes that, given the exceptional and serious nature of such a measure, it must be used with great caution, as it would prevent an elected official from fulfilling his role as legislator and would deprive the citizens of the riding of Terrebonne of representation, albeit temporarily, in the National Assembly.
This recommendation must not, however, exempt the Minister from rectifying his situation. Indeed, the Minister cannot be allowed to remain in breach of the Code throughout his entire term. Not only can he not evade compliance with the law, but it is also an issue of fairness toward the other Cabinet ministers complying with section 46 of the Code. The Commissioner therefore urges the Minister to immediately take concrete steps to comply with the Code, according to solutions that are currently allowed under section 46. If such a breach persists, the Commissioner will have no other choice but to take up the matter again and to consider the other possible sanctions, which may be increasingly severe.
Complying with Ethics Requirements to Maintain Public Trust
National Assembly Members’ diversity of backgrounds is an asset for this institution. Having experience as an investor and entrepreneur is not incompatible with political life, but it does require adjustments that may involve financial and personal sacrifices. In this regard, the Commissioner stated that “[Translation] the requirements regarding ethics and conduct imposed on Members are unique to the important offices they hold in a democratic society such as ours and are intended to, above all, ensure citizens’ trust. The public interest is the only interest that should guide a Cabinet member in the exercise of his or her functions.” That is why the Commissioner reiterates how important it is for all Members to be well-informed of the provisions that apply to them. The Commissioner reminds Members that her office is available to assist and guide them in complying with the Code, and that compliance with its provisions is an inherent part of their responsibility as the people’s representatives.
Inquiry Report (in French only)
Report Summary (English version available soon)
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Source and Information
Communications and Institutional Relations Adviser
Ethics Commissioner’s Office