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Scandal-plagued Quebec adopts political code of ethics

Premier Jean Charest leaves the Quebec National Assembly on Dec. 3, 2010.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Dogged by allegations of political corruption, the Quebec National Assembly has adopted a code of ethics that stiffens conflict-of-interest rules and establishes a provincial watchdog.

Bill 48, which legislators passed unanimously on Friday, calls for the appointment of a political ethics commissioner and, among other provisions, stipulates that a premier or any other minister is not allowed to receive outside gifts or benefits.

That means Premier Jean Charest must relinquish the $75,000 bonus salary he has received from the Quebec Liberal Party every year since becoming leader in 1998. The money supplemented Mr. Charest's more than $175,000 salary as Premier.

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The Parti Québécois had warned Mr. Charest that if he failed to waive the additional party salary, the opposition would obstruct passage of the bill.

When asked if he was still receiving the $75,000 salary on Friday, Mr. Charest said: "What remuneration? As of today, no, there isn't any."

An ethics commissioner will likely be named next week, before the end of the legislative session, a government spokesperson said.

Mr. Charest and Opposition Leader Pauline Marois will discuss potential candidates, though the appointment ultimately requires approval from two-thirds of the National Assembly.

The government tabled the legislation May, 2009, after numerous conflict-of-interest allegations hit the Charest government. The opposition was particularly critical of Mr. Charest for allowing former labour minister David Whissell to remain part-owner of a paving company that had received lucrative government contracts.

Another minister, Pierre Arcand, was also criticized for his stake in a Montreal advertising firm that had dealings with the government. And former health and social services minister Philippe Couillard came under attack for negotiating the terms of his future employment with a private health-care consortium before quitting his job as minister.

Since then, another minister, Tony Tomassi, resigned from cabinet after it was revealed he used a credit card belonging to a private security firm that received government contracts. The resignation came amid allegations he allocated daycare permits to Liberal Party supporters.

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Under the new law, government ministers will no longer be allowed to hold a stake in a company that deals with the government.

Furthermore, the law requires legislators to disclose all income and sources of revenue. Ministers must also disclose all assets to the ethics commissioner, who can order them to be placed in a blind trust. All disclosures will come under close scrutiny by the ethics commissioner, who will then decide what information should be made public.

Violations of the rules will carry penalties ranging from a simple reprimand to a fine to an outright expulsion. The sanctions recommended by the ethics commissioner will need to be approved by a vote in the National Assembly.

Mr. Charest had first promised to adopt a new ethics code during the 2003 election campaign, when he was first elected Premier.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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