Ethics bill not a done deal

QUEBEC РThe Parti Qu̩b̩cois opposition served notice yesterday that it is prepared to extend consideration of Bill 48 Рto give MNAs a code of ethics Рpast the June 11 deadline for passage set by Liberal Premier Jean Charest.

Charest last week removed the major stumbling block to adoption of the code when he gave up his $75,000 extra paycheque, which the PQ insisted must be excluded from the proposed new code of ethics and conduct, which would set rules to prevent conflicts of interest, kickbacks and favouritism.

The premier said he hoped giving up the extra $75,000 he received annually from the Quebec Liberal Party since he became its leader in 1998 would ensure quick passage of the bill, introduced last year. Charest’s salary as premier is $175,045 a year.

Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, has said the premier must be paid by taxpayers alone, even suggesting Charest should get a pay raise from the public so he doesn’t feel it necessary to take money collected by Liberal fundraisers.

"He has one master and that’s the Quebec people," she said.

Charest explained he wanted the code of ethics adopted to clear the air, while calling allegations of corruption and collusion in the construction industry "exaggerated."

The three opposition parties in the assembly united yesterday to vote for a motion presented by Marois calling for "an independent public inquiry into all the allegations relating to the construction industry, to the granting of government contracts, permits and subsidies, as well as into the financing of political parties."

Before the debate on the Marois motion, which the Liberal majority defeated, Jean-Guy Dagenais, president of the Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec, the union representing Sûretédu Québec officers, joined Marois and other opposition members at a rally outside the legislature.

Charest keeps saying that Operation Hammer, a combined police operation, is looking into the allegations of construction corruption.

Dagenais said the police are doing their work, but their union supports the opposition call for a public inquiry because some matters that may be unethical are not necessarily criminal.

Dagenais said, so far, Operation Hammer has only caught "small fish."

"We are far from catching the sharks," he said.

In answer to PQ demands, the Liberals presented amendments to Bill 48 yesterday, including one barring the premier and any of his ministers from accepting a second salary "directly or indirectly."

But the Liberal amendment also says a minister may be reimbursed by his party for "reasonable expenses" while acting on party business.

"The spirit is there," said Stéphane Bédard, ethics spokesperson for the PQ.

But Bédard added that he still has reservations about the bill. "We might have amendments," he said.

Bédard said the PQ would have liked the government to name an ethics commissioner first, to help MNAs draft the legislation.

"It is a complex bill," he said.

But Liberal House leader Jacques Dupuis, the minister who sponsored the ethics bill, said the legislation needs to come first.

"It is preferable to have a law to apply before we name a commissioner," he said.

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