The Minister of Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, gave “privileged access” and “abusively favored the personal interests” of her real estate business partner Annie Lemieux by organizing a meeting with her in December 2022, concludes the Ethics Commissioner of the National Assembly in a report tabled Thursday.
“I was reckless in that and that’s not the way to proceed in politics,” Ms. Duranceau agreed in a short press scrum. “I organized a meeting with someone I knew, like I always did in business. In politics, it doesn't work like that, so it was an honest mistake. »
The Prime Minister, François Legault, lined up behind his minister. “I think she made an honest mistake. There was no financial impact,” he stressed. Although Ms. Duranceau committed a breach, the commissioner, Ariane Mignolet, does not recommend that the minister receive a sanction.
Me Mignolet looked behind the scenes of a meeting organized on December 5, 2022 between Minister Duranceau, Ms. Lemieux, the Minister responsible for Seniors, Sonia Bélanger, and former Minister Michel Clair , present at this meeting in his capacity as a developer of real estate projects.
At the time, Ms. Lemieux had registered in the register of lobbyists, which surprised the minister, writes Me Mignolet. Ms. Lemieux and Ms. Duranceau have been friends since 2003, golf partners; they have been involved in real estate projects, including the conversion (“flip”) of a building in Montreal. At the time of the meeting, they were still in business ties, due to a dispute with the architect behind this conversion, although all the units had been resold.
“These elements denote a significant proximity link,” notes Me Mignolet. She also notes that “the minister played an active and decisive role in organizing the meeting.” His involvement “had the effect of prioritizing this meeting which perhaps should not have been and thus giving Mr. Clair and Ms. Lemieux very rapid access to the two ministers.”
Beware of friends
Citing a previous report on Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, Me Mignolet recalls that “a lobbyist should never have direct access to a minister because of his great friendship with him”. In the case of Ms. Duranceau, such a distance “was not maintained”, and this “denotes direct and privileged access”, judges the commissioner. “A person cannot, simply because they hold the contact details of a parliamentarian, benefit from direct and privileged access to this parliamentarian or another,” writes the commissioner. She concludes that the minister committed a “breach” of article 16 of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Members of the National Assembly.
Me Mignolet does not recommend sanctions for Minister Duranceau . “I do not believe that the Minister’s failure was minor,” she wrote. However, “the minister acknowledges having acted recklessly”, “admits and now understands her error” and “was collaborative and demonstrated good faith throughout the process”, she adds.
When the investigation was opened, Ms. Duranceau said she had “nothing to reproach herself for.” The investigation now completed, the elected official has undertaken to follow, “very quickly”, training “explaining the particular ethical and professional framework which applies to members of the Executive Council”. The commissioner also recommends that MPs be made aware of ethical issues at the very start of their mandate – the meeting between Ms. Lemieux and Ms. Duranceau took place a little over a month after the latter's arrival at the Council of Ministers.
The investigation into Ms. Duranceau was launched in June, following a request from the Liberal Party of Quebec. Liberal MP Monsef Derraji, who referred this matter to Me Mignolet, alleged that Minister Duranceau had possibly contravened article 15 of the code of ethics for elected officials, by placing herself in a situation where “personal interest can influence [ his] independence of judgment”. The Commissioner did not accept these arguments, focusing instead on Article 16.
“While the Minister has admitted she was wrong, it is important to remind all Ministers to always proceed with great caution. No one is above the code of ethics,” responded Mr. Derraji once the report was filed. “We find it deplorable to see CAQ ministers repeatedly showing arrogance regarding the application of the code of ethics in their files. It's time to get things done. »
Announcer of Bill 31, according to QS and the PQ
For Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois, the Ethics Commissioner's report testifies not only to a breach, but also to the proximity of Minister France-Élaine Duranceau to the real estate business community. “The list is growing: another ethical rebuke for the CAQ,” launched solidarity activist Alexandre Leduc on Thursday.
“There is too much proximity between the Minister of Housing and the world of real estate brokers, it must be said that this appears in Bill 31. Madame Duranceau has just killed the transfer of lease, we had good noticed she wasn't on the tenant side! “, he added. He suggested the minister “broaden her horizons” and be “everyone’s minister.”
Joël Arseneau, of the Parti Québécois, also underlined that Mignolet's decision “testifies to the minister's proximity to the real estate developer community”. This proximity is still observed today in Bill 31, he added. “We see very clearly the minister's bias towards real estate projects, real estate owners at the expense of tenants,” declared the PQ MP.
The meeting between Minister Duranceau and her business partner Annie Lemieux focused in particular on measures to create “more places for housing seniors by focusing in particular on the conversion of buildings and on densification,” according to the Ethics Commissioner’s report.