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Quebec's economy minister denies any wrongdoing as ethics probe launched

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon says he did nothing wrong and has no intention of resigning, despite the ethic commissioner's probe into assets he allegedly holds in private companies.

Possible violation of conflict of interest rules under investigation by Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet

'The bibitte Fitzgibbon comes with a lot of baggage,' Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon told reporters Wednesday, denying he is in a conflict of interest by nominating a friend to a top job of Investissement Québec. 'I know a lot of people.' (CBC)

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon says he has broken no rules and has no intention of resigning in light of the ethic commissioner's probe into the nomination of a friend to the top job at a government agency and the sale of assets in a company he has a stake in.

"I will not resign unless I feel that I'm not helping the government," Fitzgibbon told reporters Wednesday.

If he ever feels that his presence in the cabinet is detrimental to what Premier François Legault "has in mind to accomplish, I am going to leave in in 30 seconds," he said. "Failing that, I'm going to continue."

Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet is investigating whether the minister broke conflict of interest rules and whether he properly declared all his assets, the commissioner said Tuesday in a news release.

Mignolet said she is opening the probe on her own initiative.

She said two separate complaints filed with her office last week by opposition parties regarding Fitzgibbon will also be part of that investigation.

Québec Solidaire's Vincent Marissal filed one of those complaints, asking Mignolet to investigate Fitzgibbon's nomination of Guy Leblanc as president and CEO of Investissement Québec, the agency that helps finance businesses across the province.

Marissal alleges Fitzgibbon's personal and professional ties with Leblanc make that nomination a conflict of interest.

His complaint also claims just days before that announcement, Fitzgibbon had given instructions to sell shares in a company, Move Protein, chaired by Leblanc's son.

The second complaint is from Parti Québécois House Leader Martin Ouellet, who also requested the ethics commissioner investigate the allegations about that sale of shares.

Mignolet said the questions raised by the two MNAs "are connected,'' and they "will be treated as part of the investigation the commissioner opened on her own initiative.''

Fitzgibbon denies wrongdoing

People who know him know he has "high values," Fitzgibbon said Wednesday, and after more than three decades in the business, he has never had a complaint filed against him.

When it comes to his business assets, some are held in a blind trust, he said, but he has a stake in 13 private companies, and the law doesn't permit them to be held in that way.

He said all of his holdings in those companies were put up for sale after last fall's election.

"I have sold two to date," he said, adding that it's sheer coincidence that his stake in Move Protein was among the first to sell and that the sale went through just before Leblanc's nomination.

Fitzgibbon said he is confident the investigation will find the allegations amount to nothing.

None of his companies have come to the Quebec government in search of funding since he was elected, he said. He said if any do in the future, he is committed to sitting out any discussions pertaining to them.

'I know a lot of people': Fitzgibbon

On the issue of Leblanc's nomination, Fitzgibbon said Leblanc, who he described as a friend, was selected as the best candidate by the board of directors of Investissement Québec.

It's up to the government to make the decision, he said, however, the government relied on the board's recommendation.

"The competence, the qualifications of the candidate should be the prime driver" of decisions like this, said Fitzgibbon.

"Guy Leblanc, in my opinion and the opinion of others involved in the process, is the best candidate."

He predicted that he will know other people nominated in future by Investissement Québec.

"The bibitte [insect] Fitzgibbon comes with baggage," he said. "I know a lot of people."

Premier François Legault said he is not worried about the investigation, and the ethics commissioner will provide an independent opinion on the matter. 

With files from Radio-Canada, CBC's Cathy Senay and The Canadian Press

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