Parti Québécois Environment Minister Daniel Breton is being forced to appear before a National Assembly committee to explain his meeting with employees of the province’s environmental assessment board.
The main opposition parties allege the meeting involved intimidation and political interference in the independent process of a quasi-judiciary body.
Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec members imposed their will on the Parti Québécois minority government in adopting a motion to “shed light on the events of Oct. 24.” That’s when Mr. Breton met with board employees.
Controversy erupted recently over a news report that Mr. Breton showed up last month at the environmental assessment board’s office, where he met with personnel and the board’s five commissioners behind closed doors and demanded their cellphone numbers. Mr. Breton has denied charges that he attempted to intimidate the board members during what he described as a courtesy visit.
By banding together for the first time against the PQ, the Liberals and CAQ will get an opportunity to grill the minister for two hours.
“The government wanted to try to cause a cover-up and talk about an inquisition,” Liberal environment critic Yolande James said. “This situation could have been totally avoided by having the minister simply come out and say what happened. They’ve not done that.”
The opposition said it is concerned that the environmental assessment board will become a political tool for the PQ to promote its agenda. CAQ environment critic François Bonnardel said Mr. Breton needs to reassure people that the board will continue functioning as an independent body. “After what he did on Oct. 24 we have reason to be concerned,” Mr. Bonnardel said.
Prior to entering politics, Mr. Breton was a vocal environmental activist who had often criticized the board’s pro-business bias in the reviews it had concluded on several key industrial projects. Within weeks of being sworn in as minister, Mr. Breton fired the board’s president and vice-president. He appointed the head of a climate-change research group, Pierre Baril, as president and Quebec environmental journalist Louis-Gilles Francoeur as vice-president.
Current employees and former board members may be asked to testify before the committee, which according to the motion adopted on Thursday, will be required to report back to the National Assembly before the end of the current session in two weeks.