We have brought to light many times in our stories and editorials that we are living in an era when bureaucrats — not elected officials — are making and interpreting and enforcing our laws. In the past few months they have included the Quebec Health Ministry’s critical care reduction protocols and Ottawa’s Heritage Ministry’s internet censorship bill C10. This is not a sustainable state of affairs for a free society. And the bureaucrats’ actions are far too often lacking in equity, justice and just good old common sense.
But often in life, dangers are driven home when there is a face put to the problem. One person victimized by power hungry bureaucrats who pervert the very laws that they are supposed to understand and enforce. That victim’s face came to light this past week.
He is living proof that no matter how powerful and successful and innocent someone is, a statist government with deep-rooted bureaucracies can compromise anyone. Pierre Fitzgibbon stepped down as Minister of the Economy this week. You can see his exclusive interview with our editor on The Suburban’s BEYONG THE PAGES broadcast. Observers from all political streams considered him to have been one of the ablest ministers Quebec has had since the Quiet Revolution. Among the programs he made work were efficient funding of grants and loans to small and medium sized businesses so they could survive the Covid lockdowns and the expansion of the mandate of Investissements Quebec to allow for greater risk more debt assumption and even equity involvement with expanding businesses. He also eliminated many bureaucratic hoops and paperwork to make it easier for Quebec companies of imagination and vision to succeed.
Pierre Fitzgibbon did not need to go into politics he was one of those very successful individuals that political leaders want in positions of important executive power. To use an oft-employed phrase he was and is among our best and brightest. A successful entrepreneur, he made it on his own and was not only respected within the business community of Quebec he served at some of the highest levels including being a member of the board of the Caisse de dépot, Quebec’s pension fund. When he entered politics and Cabinet at Premier Legault’s urging he did what all others do to comply with ethics rules. He either sold his holdings in public companies or put them in a blind trust. He also resigned from some 14 directorships. But he had minor holdings — some 1% — in two private companies ImmerVision and WhiteStar Capital. He could not find buyers for his minority stakes and these companies had no dealings with the government. He so reported to the Ethics office and was told to try his best to divest but there was no urgency or time limit placed.
Ethics Commissioner Arianne Magnolet was completely aware of this through two and a half years. The Ethics Code allows private holdings. Sec.45 of the Ethics Act demands the sale — or placing in trust — of holdings in “public companies with marketable values.” Fitzgibbon had done that. Sec.46 of the Act allows the maintenance of holdings in private companies so long as they have no transactions nor receive benefits from the government.Neither of the two private companies Fitzgibbon had a minor interest in had any dealings with the government. So he met that criteria. In fact Sec.18(3)of the Ethics Act allows the Ethics Commissioner to make an exception and allow a private company to be held by a Minister even if it had dealings with the government.
Readers will recall that when Pierre-Karl Peladeau ran for the PQ he maintained his control of Quebecor. Suddenly some eight days ago Magnolet came out with the demand that Fitzgibbon leave cabinet until he sells his shares.And if he wants to remain an MNA he must put them in a blind trust. Yet in a blind trust he can’t sell them and so can’t return to Cabinet. And to just give them up would cost Fitzgibbon $1 million.
Magnolet’s only explanations for her position was that she implied that the fact that these two companies filed tax returns constituted a “transaction” with the government. We trust you gather the absurdity. She also stated that she wanted to push reforms of the Ethics Act. Her recommendations were rejected in a supra-majority vote of the National Assembly last week. But in our woke environment where even most media just jumped on this story without reading the Act, Fitzgibbon decided to spare the government embarrassment and stepped down as Minister even though Premier Legault defended him. Fitzgibbon is considering his options this summer.
So Quebec has lost one of its ablest public servants though he violated no law. Reasonable observers may well question why Magnolet perverted the meaning of the very legislation she is empowered to enforce; where does she think she has authority to be judge and jury and demand Fitzgibbon’s resignation; and finally, why now? Was this a stunt to sacrifice a high profile Minister simply to get attention on her agenda on the Act? All of us are entitled to answers. And all of us should be vigilant — very vigilant — against the depth of unbridled bureaucratic power that surrounds us.