July 13, 2024

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Quebec’s housing minister violated code of ethics, commissioner rules

Quebec’s minister responsible for housing breached the code of ethics for members of the National Assembly (MNAs) when she met with a longtime friend and business partner, the province’s ethics commissioner has ruled.

In June, ethics commissioner Ariane Mignolet opened an investigation into France-Élaine Duranceau with respects to a potential conflict of interest. The investigation focused on a meeting that took place on Dec. 5, 2022 between Duranceau and Annie Lemieux, a person the minister has known for two decades and with whom she collaborated on real estate projects. 

During last year’s meeting, Lemieux was acting as a lobbyist with Duranceau and the provincial minister responsible for seniors, Sonia Bélanger. Ideas for the creation of housing units for seniors were discussed, according to the ethics commissioner’s report.

The meeting was held less than two months after Duranceau was sworn in as the minister responsible for housing. 

Duranceau and Lemieux sold the last housing unit in their “real estate conversion project” a few months before the last provincial election, the report reads. On the day of that meeting, however, the pair still had a business relationship due to a pending legal case involving the project’s engineer.

The commissioner’s investigation had to do with articles 15 and 16 of the code of ethics for MNAs. Article 15 states that an MNA cannot put themselves “in a situation where their personal interest can influence their independence of judgment.”

According to Mignolet, Duranceau did not violate article 15, since there was no evidence that the minister had a personal stake during last year’s meeting.

Article 16 prohibits an MNA from doing something that favours their personal interests or the interests of an immediate family member or non-dependent child. Article 16 also applies to any other person if the favourable treatment is done in an “abusive manner.”

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France-Élaine Duranceau, the minister who is looking to get a controversial housing bill passed, was also found guilty of an ethics violation this week.

In her 27-page report, Mignolet says Duranceau violated article 16 because the meeting did not need to be prioritized and the minister essentially fast-tracked it due to her personal connections with those involved. 

“Situations like this one contribute to the undermining of the population’s confidence in its institutions even if there are no bad intentions on the part of the elected official,” the report reads.

“It’s worrisome that a person from the business world that has personal ties with an MNA can have direct access to them and set up professional meetings.”

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Quebec Premier François Legault, seen here during question period at the National Assembly on Oct. 17, 2023, described Duranceau’s actions as an ‘error out of good faith.’ (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

No disciplinary measures recommended

Despite finding that Duranceau violated the ethics code, the commissioner did not recommend any disciplinary measures. 

In her report, Mingolet wrote that the minister recognizes that she made a mistake at the beginning of her mandate as minister. 

“In addition to being more aware of the existence of ethical principles and applicable rules of conduct, she has committed to take part in a training,” the report reads.

On Thursday, Quebec Premier François Legault quickly chimed in on the ethics commissioner’s ruling while walking past reporters at the National Assembly.

“She committed a mistake out of good faith and it did not have a financial impact,” he said.

When the ethics investigation was launched in June, Duranceau was dealing with a wave of criticism. She had come under fire after a series of news reports included allegations of her house flipping. She has also been criticized for Bill 31.

If passed into law, it would allow a landlord to block lease transfers. Tenants can use lease transfers to take over apartment units and maintain the same rent, thus avoiding significant hikes.

WATCH | The political divide over Bill 31: 

Why Quebec politicians are divided about a proposed housing law

The province’s housing minister is hoping to adopt Bill 31 by the end of the current session at the National Assembly, but there’s still lots of work to do and not much time ahead.

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