Quebec’s Minister of the Economy resigns after an ethical inquiry into personal investments
Quebec Premier François Legault has lost his main economic lieutenant following allegations of conflict of interest as the province tries to extricate itself from the coronavirus pandemic and close a wealth gap with its neighbors.
Pierre Fitzgibbon has agreed to quit his post as Minister of the Economy with immediate effect, Legault told reporters at a press conference in Quebec on Wednesday. Eric Girard, Minister of Finance of Quebec, will assume his functions in addition to his own, the government announced.
“I find that unfortunate,” said Mr. Legault, adding that he and his minister had made the decision mutually in order to protect the confidence of Quebecers in their government. “Finally, we want to turn the page on the pandemic to focus on things like the economy. This does not come at the right time.
Mr. Fitzgibbon’s departure as economic chief follows a report by Quebec Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet who concluded that he repeatedly refused to follow the conflict of interest provisions set out in the code ethics of elected officials by continuing to hold shares in two companies that do business with the government. Ms. Mignolet recommended that Mr. Fitzgibbon be suspended from the Legislature until he sells the shares or resigns his cabinet post and places the interest in a blind trust.
Mr. Fitzgibbon attempted to sell the stakes in Immervision and White Star Capital Canada Inc., but there is no liquid market for such a sale at this time, so he would do so with a loss of over $ 1 million. , said Mr. Legault. He said his minister was not prepared to suffer a loss of this magnitude.
Personally recruited into politics by Mr. Legault, Mr. Fitzgibbon is an accomplished business development specialist whose resume includes executive and board positions at Atrium Innovations, National Bank of Canada and Walter Capital Partners.
His withdrawal from the firm leaves Mr. Girard leading several major economic initiatives, including Quebec’s electrification strategy – a potential effort of $ 7 billion to develop an industry capable of producing the raw materials and the finished product of electric vehicle batteries. .
Such a development is the key to Mr. Legault’s objective of creating jobs and closing what he sees as an unacceptable wealth gap between Quebec and neighboring Ontario. The gross domestic product per capita was $ 54,149 in Quebec in 2019 compared to $ 61,315 in Ontario, according to federal statistics.
Mr. Fitzgibbon has faced four investigations by the Ethics Commissioner and, in November, he became the premier of the Quebec cabinet to be censured by members of the legislature for ethical breaches.
Mr. Legault supported Mr. Fitzgibbon and said that Quebec’s ethical rules had to be modernized to take such situations into account. The government had tried to resolve the situation by mandating the Quebec Treasury Department to deal with any file involving Immervision and White Star.
The Prime Minister said it was a mutual decision that Mr. Fitzgibbon would leave the Cabinet. He will remain a member of the provincial legislature.
This departure raises the question of whether businessmen who might be tempted to enter politics in the future will think twice before doing so. Mr Legault, a former full-fledged businessman, said that it is very important to have experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders in government in order to take the lead in negotiations with potential investors and other questions.
“I am more convinced than ever that in government we need business people like Pierre Fitzgibbon,” said Mr. Legault.
Quebec was one of the hardest-hit provinces at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the government has now announced a gradual reopening of businesses over the coming weeks as health restrictions ease in Montreal and in several other regions.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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