Quebec's economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, facing new pressure to resign

Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon is facing pressure from the opposition to resign from cabinet amid new allegations of breaches of parliamentary ethics related to his involvement with White Star.

First in a hews briefing and then in the National Assemby during question period on Wednesday morning, the Liberal opposition, Quebec Solidaire and the Parti Quebecois joined forces to bombard the minister with questions.

They also recalled that Premier Francois Legault had pledged to show "zero tolerance" for any form of conflict of interest in his team.

Minister Fitzgibbon, who is also the subject of a fourth investigation in two years by the ethics commissioner, responded Wednesday by saying he would not resign and believed he had nothing to reproach himself for.

He was reacting to a report in the Quebecor dailies recalling that Fitzgibbon, who is responsible for Investissement Québec, had invested in one of the White Star funds, and that this company was registered as a lobbyist with a view to obtaining financial assistance from Investissement Quebec.

It was also reported that in January 2019, in Paris, Fitzgibbon introduced White Star founder Eric Martineau-Fortin to Premier Legault.

It is unclear whether or not the premier was aware of Fitzgibbon's ties to White Star at the time of the meeting with its president. The newspaper says the premier's spokesperson claimed he was not aware of it.

The premier's office was aware of my investments' at the time, Fitzgibbon corrected on Wednesday.

Fitzgibbon said Quebecor was being "completely relentless" against him. He argued that the White Star fund in which he invested in 2014 was in the process of liquidation. In a news briefing, he refused to say how much of a stake he had in White Star.

On several occasions, Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet has demanded that Fitzgibbon divest his interest in White Star Capital and the company Immervision, to comply with the code of ethics for parliamentarians and to avoid any conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest.

Under the ethics code, a member of the executive council cannot have an interest in a non-public company with ties to government.

But in Fitzgibbon's view, there is "no ethics issue" in the new allegations and "no conflict of interest" in his situation.

"Get him out of his seat! It's urgent," said QS parliamentary leader Manon Masse at a news conference, addressing the premier.

"He must leave his duties as minister ... Because now, how many red cards has he received? Another investigation is underway. Obviously, he has not understood that he is on the other side, that is to say, on the side of politics and that there are rules in politics," said Vincent Marissal, a QS MNA.

"Zero tolerance is zero, or it's not zero? So, in the situation of Pierre Fitzgibbon, I think that, obviously, he has reached the point of becoming a liability, and his position has always been very clear. When he is a liability for the Legault government, he will leave. And he's not leaving," commented Liberal MNA Gaetan Barrette.

Barrette denounced the fact that the premier, who is the "ultimate authority" on ethics, condones the fact that his minister "knowingly puts his personal interests ahead of the interests of the institution."

Fitzgibbon reiterated Wednesday that if he becomes a liability to the government, he will leave politics.

Recently, the government gave the Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel the exceptional task of managing possible requests from White Star, to avoid placing Fitzgibbon in a conflict of interest situation.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021. 

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