The Code of ethics and conduct of the Members of the National Assembly (chapter C-23.1) was adopted unanimously in December 2010.
The Code first affirms the important role Members play and recognizes the expectations of the people of Québec with regard to their Members of the National Assembly (MNAs). It also states the key values of the National Assembly, to which the Members must adhere. It states the rules of ethics and conduct to be observed by Members and Cabinet Ministers (Conseil exécutif) and defines how these rules will be monitored and enforced. It establishes that the Ethics Commissioner is responsible for the administration of the Code.
In 2013, two sets of rules applicable to political staff came into force: the Rules of conduct applicable to the staff of Members and House officers of the National Assembly (Rules) and the Regulation respecting the rules of conduct applicable to the office staff of Ministers (Regulation). The implementation of such rules was planned in the bill enacting the Code. The provisions of these two texts are substantially similar. They reflect the values stated in the Code, as well as some of its rules of conduct.
The Ethics Commissioner is responsible for enforcing the legal provisions and regulations provided for in these texts.
The Ethics Commissioner is an independent authority responsible for enforcing and applying the ethical principles and rules guiding the conduct of the MNAs and their staff. The Commissioner is appointed by the National Assembly to enforce and monitor the Code, Rules and Regulation.
To carry out its mission, the Ethics Commissioner fulfills three major roles:
The Ethics Commissioner is responsible for administering the Code that concerns the MNAs, as well as the Rules and Regulation that concern the Members’ staff.
The term Members of the National Assembly includes members of the Conseil exécutif. Besides, anyone who is a member of the Conseil exécutif (a Cabinet Minister) but not of the National Assembly is deemed to be a Member under the Code, and is subject to the same rules.
As for political staff, the Regulation applies to ministerial staff, including constituency and regional staff. The Rules apply to Members’ staff and that of the House Officers of the National Assembly, such as the the leader, house leader or whip of a parliamentary group, for example. The Rules also apply to staff hired to support a political party or independent member through research or administrative help.
In all cases, the Ethics Commissioner ensures that the individuals subject to these rules adhere to the values set out in the Code and fulfill their obligations. It does so by providing advisory opinions and recommendations to its clientele upon request and by conducting inquiries, on the Commissioner’s initiative or at the request of a Member, regarding potential violations of the existing provisions.
Prior to the adoption of the Code
Before the Code was adopted, Members and Cabinet Ministers did not have a code of conduct to follow. Nonetheless, provisions—to which they were subject—still existed.
Some of these rules were introduced by the Legislature in 1982 through the Act respecting the National Assembly. These rules mainly dealt with conflicts of interest and incompatible positions and offices, and the Act established the office of jurisconsult to provide advisory opinions to Members regarding these rules.
In addition, Cabinet Ministers were subject to the Prime Minister’s Directives. While these directives could vary from one PM to the other, they generally focused on conflicts of interest, the confidentiality of information given to the Ministers and the post-term rules.
A new approach
Between 1988 and 2004, all Canadian legislatures successively engaged in reforms to codify the existing rules of conduct and institute independent authorities to administer the resulting codes.
In the early 2000s, seeing the change in Canada and in countries around the world, efforts were made to raise awareness among the Members of the National Assembly regarding parliamentary ethics and rules of conduct in Canada and abroad. On June 10, 2004, as part of a parliamentary reform initiative, a working committee on this subject made up of parliamentarians, ethics specialists, lawyers and public servants was created and began work to propose avenues of reflection to parliamentarians on a code of ethics.
Adoption of the Code
On May 14, 2009, Bill 48 concerning the Code of ethics and conduct of the Members of the National Assembly was submitted to the National Assembly. This bill was adopted unanimously by the Members of the National Assembly on December 3, 2010, and enacted on December 8, 2010. In January 2011, the first commissioner was sworn in, and the Code’s provisions gradually came into effect until January 1, 2012. From then on, MNAs have had a common framework to guide them in fulfilling the public interest mission entrusted to them.
The Commissioner has responsibilities in terms of prevention and advice to his clientele, but also in terms of inquiries. This section provides answers to frequently asked questions about advisory opinions and inquiries.
Advice and advisory opinions
The Code requires that the Commissioner carry out his or her mission while focussing on information and prevention. The Code, Rules and Regulation entrust the Commissioner with the responsibility of providing written and reasoned opinions relating to the obligations included in these texts.
1. In what circumstances can the Commissioner provide written opinions?
Advisory opinions are issued at the request of a Member or staff member who has questions about their obligations in specific situations.
The opinions inform the person in question by examining the situation in light of the responsibilities the person assumes through his or her duties of office.
The opinions can include recommendations the Commissioner deems appropriate.
2. Who can request an advisory opinion from the Commissioner?
The Commissioner can deliver advisory opinions to his or her clientele, who are the Members and their staff.
The Commissioner provides opinions concerning the people who request it. It is not possible to request an opinion on a third party’s situation.
3. What topics do the opinions provided by the Commissioner cover?
The opinions cover the interpretation of the Code, Rules and Regulation requirements in terms of disclosure of private interests, rules of conduct relating to conflicts of interest, gifts and benefits, and post-term rules.
Each year in the activity report, the Commissioner indicates the number of opinions issued and the topics addressed.
4. Does the Commissioner disclose the opinions he or she delivers?
The Commissioner’s advisory opinions are strictly confidential and are addressed specifically to those who request them.
The person who requested the opinion can, however, make it public or authorize the Commissioner to make it public.
To ensure the proper application of the Code, Rules and Regulation, these texts entrust the Commissioner with the responsibility to conduct inquiries to verify if violations were committed.
1. In what circumstances can the Commissioner initiate an inquiry?
Concerning Members, the Code states that the Commissioner can initiate an inquiry:
Regarding staff members, the Rules and Regulation state that a written request for an inquiry can be addressed to the Commissioner by the staff member’s party leader or by the MNA or Cabinet Minister from whom the staff members reports. The Commissioner can also conduct an inquiry regarding a staff member on his or her own initiative.
In all cases, when the Commissioner initiates an inquiry, he or she informs the person involved either by forwarding the inquiry request or by giving reasonable written notice.
2. Are the Commissioner’s inquiries made public?
The Code, Rules and Regulation require that the Commissioner conduct inquiries in private. The Commissioner cannot publicly comment on a verification or inquiry. However, the Commissioner can confirm that a request was received or that a verification or inquiry was initiated or completed.
Following a verification, the Commissioner can also disclose why he or she decided not to conduct an inquiry.
Inquiry reports issued by the Commissioner under the Code are tabled in the National Assembly by the President and are thus of public nature. See the Publications section to view the inquiry reports issued by the Commissioner.
3. Is there a complaints process available to the public to report a potential violation?
The Code, Rules and Regulation do not provide for the possibility for citizens to request an inquiry.
However, citizens who witness a situation that, in their opinion, consists of a violation of the Code can bring the information to the Commissioner’s attention.
The Commissioner can decide whether to intervene or not after assessing the facts or events brought to his or her attention.
4. Can violations of the Code, Rules and Regulation result in sanctions?
Following an inquiry conducted under the Code, the Commissioner can recommend the imposition of a sanction to the National Assembly if he or she has concluded that an MNA has violated the Code.
The sanctions provided for in the Code are the following:
The National Assembly decides whether to impose a sanction recommended by the Commissioner. A report including a sanction recommendation must be put to vote in the National Assembly. The sanction is applied if the report is supported by two thirds of the MNAs. The report is put to a vote without debate and cannot be amended.
The Rules and Regulation do not include the possibility of recommending sanctions.