Ministers will have to divest themselves of their company

Ministers will have to part with their business

and Marie Christine Trottier MISE À DAY

Three ministers of the Legault government are at the head of companies, which could be incompatible with their new functions. 

The Ethics Commissioner and compliance with ethics could also ask them to withdraw from it, failing which they could be prevented from participating in meetings of the Council of Ministers

Christopher Skeete, France-Élaine Duranceau and Bernard Drainville are directors d'entreprises, according to the Quebec Enterprise Register. 

The Code of Ethics for Elected Officials states that a “member of the Executive Council […] may not exercise the function of administrator or officer of a legal person”.  

“All specific situations must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and depending on the context”, specifies however the office of the Commissioner who will examine the situation of the three ministers.

Christopher Skeete, Minister Delegate for Economy, is president of the private medical clinic Cas Medic, a family business that offers sampling and vaccination services, reimbursable by patients' private insurance.  

Christopher Skeete

“Very sensitive”

The majority shareholder of the clinic is Fiducie Sauternes. In 2021, Mr. Skeete had listed as a trustee in his Expression of Interest. 

He owns rental properties with his wife, which are listed on the website of a property management which is owned by the Trust.

Saying he was “very sensitive” to the situation, Mr. Skeete undertook to “follow the recommendations which will be submitted to him by the Commissioner, whom he will meet in the coming days”, indicates his attaché. 

The same goes for France-Élaine Duranceau, Minister responsible for Housing, who has several real estate companies. 

France-Élaine Duranceau

“If there are actions to be taken to comply with the [Commissioner's] directives, it will be done quickly,” says her attaché

She is the first shareholder and director of a “real estate investment” company. 

She is also the first shareholder and president of NOMI real estate, and finally majority shareholder and sole director of an investment company. 

“Whiter than white”

The Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, is the president of a company for its communication contracts. She will become “inactive”, because the minister will devote himself entirely to “public service”, tells us his attaché.

Bernard Drainville during his swearing in as minister last week. He will meet with the Ethics Commissioner shortly and should comply with her directives.

“An opinion from the Ethics Commissioner will be sought in order to be certain of being whiter than white,” she adds. 

With the collaboration of Francis Halin and Philippe Langlois, Le Journal and Bureau d'Enquête  

WHAT THE CODE OF ETHICS FOR ELECTED OFFICERS SAYS  

“A member of the Executive Council must devote himself entirely to the performance of his duties. In particular, he may not act as a director or officer of a legal person, a partnership or an association. 

Where applicable, a member of the Executive Council must, as soon as possible after being sworn in, tender his resignation as a director or officer […] and cease all activity other than the performance of his duties. In the meantime, he may not take part in meetings of the Executive Council, of a departmental committee of the Executive Council or of the Treasury Board. » 

Avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest

Can a minister be a minister and be involved in a private company? “That's the $1,000 question, it's never white, it's never black,” says Michel Séguin, professor and expert in ethics at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

“Someone who holds a high office must try to avoid having interests so that it does not skew his objectivity or that it does not sow doubt among his fellow citizens,” says the expert.

< p>Ministers will have to part with their company

Michel Séguin
Ethics Expert

While the Ethics Commissioner must render opinions on the situation and the interests of each minister, namely whether there is a risk of a potential conflict, she will also keep in mind the notion of the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Everyone has interests, so it's not analyzes to be done on the corner of a table. But politicians often tend to underestimate the impact that the appearance of a conflict of interest can have,” he continues.

People tend to be suspicious of elected officials, especially when a decision is not unanimous, says the professor.

Recent example

In the past, several ministers had to sell their company or their shares. In the last legislature, the Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, notably had to divest himself of his assets in several companies.

“It was difficult for him,” recalls Mr. Séguin.&nbsp ;

Mr. Fitzgibbon was also blamed by the Ethics Commissioner and was forced to step down as Minister, temporarily in 2021, the time to regularize his situation. 

The Minister has is the subject of controversy. For example, he held a stake in White Star funds, a firm in which Quebec has invested. The government also lent $50 million to Lion Electric, one of whose directors is Michel Ringuet, then agent of Mr. Fitzgibbon's trust. 

Liability

The Minister has often been irritated by questions from journalists about his business dealings.

“As an elected official, you need to have the ability to demonstrate your Integrity is one of your responsibilities,” said Mr. Séguin.

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