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On May 31, the Quebec Ethics Commissioner announced that he had concluded that Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, had not breached the Code of Ethics by participating in a pheasant hunting party on a private island belonging to businessmen receiving public subsidies. This followed the revelations of December 8, 2022, and the request of the opposition parties to open an inquiry into the matter.
In her report, Commissioner Ariane Mignolet nonetheless issued a warning to the Minister, stressing the need for increased vigilance to avoid apparent or real conflicts of interest. Alexis Lafleur-Paiement, a lecturer in philosophy at the Université de Montréal and a Specialist in Political Thought, the Functioning of the State and Government Institutions, explains that such conflicts of interest are commonplace in politics, whether in Quebec or Canada.
"Political parties depend on private donations to exist, and governments have an obsession with 'economic success'," he explains. "The political and economic elites are made up of the same people, and they pursue the same development goals in favor of big business. This reality is not hidden."
He gives the obvious example of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which was founded by businessmen, with the explicit aim of providing advantageous policies for companies. "Since then, the CAQ and its ministers have maintained very strong ties with the private sector, through official lobbying, personal contacts, professional meetings or investments. Pierre Fitzgibbon has been attacked several times for his investments in companies with ties to the government, namely ImmerVision and White Star Capital."
Minister Fitzgibbon reacted scathingly to the Ethics Commissioner's warning, asserting that there is a clear line between his personal and professional life and that he has no intention of changing his ways. For Mr. Lafleur Paiement, "there is certainly a distinction between the private and professional lives of a minister, but Pierre Fitzgibbon doesn't respect it. He continually mixes his private relationships, his business relationships and his ministerial duties."
This is the Ethics Commissioner's sixth investigation of Pierre Fitzgibbon, "and he received a reprimand from the National Assembly in November 2020," adds Alexis Lafleur-Paiement. "The commissioner even recommended that he be suspended from the National Assembly in June 2021 for his serious failings."
Premier François Legault reacted jokingly to the situation, saying, "The minister has been completely cleared, so he'll be allowed to continue pheasant hunting. On the other hand, we'd like to see photos of him in his suit!" He went on to criticize the Quebec Liberal Party for calling the inquiry, calling it ridiculous.
Minister Fitzgibbon, often referred to as the "super minister", is according to many experts the most powerful individual in Quebec after Mr. Legault. A personal friend of the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade is also Minister responsible for Regional Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Montréal region. His spouse Isabelle Charest is Minister responsible for Sport, Recreation and Outdoors.
Lafleur-Paiement believes this attitude is representative of a broader problem. "As an influential minister and businessman, he is protected by the Premier and his associates. His case demonstrates the cronyism between the political and economic elites. [...] Remember the scandals of the Jean Charest era (2003-2012), the SNC-Lavalin affair (2019) and now, the repeated investigations against Pierre Fitzgibbon."
He explains that these links between politics and business are detrimental to the proper functioning of democracy. "Since political and economic elites seek to privilege private enterprise, they tend to neglect the collective well-being and, often, make dubious, even illegal, arrangements."