The chief of staff of the Minister of Culture has received the green light to continue running a record company which receives subsidies from a state-owned company whose activities he oversees.
Sandy Boutin, chief of staff to Minister Nathalie Roy, is president, sole shareholder and sole director of Simone Records.
Last year, this record company received nearly $ 400,000 in grants from the Société de développement des entreprises culturelle (SODEC), which reports to the Ministry of Culture.
The amount Simone Records receives has been on the rise for three years.
A regulation of the Code of Ethics of the National Assembly stipulates that political staff can own a private enterprise that receives state subsidies.
Ministers, for their part, are required to entrust such assets to a blind trust, in order to avoid any conflict of interest.
“It is much less restrictive for a chief of staff than for an elected official, a minister”, agreed Mr. Boutin, who did not escape to answer our questions.
This particular situation for political personnel nevertheless raises questions for certain governance experts.
When he took office in Ms. Roy’s office in August 2019, Mr. Boutin was authorized by the Ethics Commissioner of the National Assembly, Ariane Mignolet, to remain at the head of his company.
File photo, Ben Pelosse
The Minister of Culture, Nathalie Roy.
“That’s why I hold my position (at the firm) and why I own Simone Records,” he told our Bureau of Investigation.
However, a series of guidelines have been put in place to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Boutin being notably responsible for SODEC.
“I manage all the state corporations [rattachées au ministère de la Culture] “, he said.
Mr. Boutin, whose cabinet salary is $ 145,000, maintained that no one has ever reported unease with his situation.
“I have never felt it from officials or from the industry, from ADISQ,” he said.
The contacts he maintains with the general manager of Simone Records do not concern the daily management of the company.
“I get the financial statements and a few times alignment questions that touch on ownership issues,” he said. But I don’t have much time to take care of it. “
As for the fact that the subsidies received by Simone Records are on the rise, Mr. Boutin affirms that this trend had already started under the previous government.
“After liberal austerity, the Liberals put money back,” he explained.
SODEC grants to Simone Records
He took precautions
At the request of the Ethics Commissioner, Sandy Boutin took the following measures to be able to combine his duties as chief of staff and boss of a record company:
The Performing Arts, SODEC, Music and Cultural and Creative Industries files were entrusted to other members of the firm’s staff.
The minister and members of the cabinet should not inform Mr. Boutin of any file that would concern his record company.
Mr. Boutin takes care not to submit, discuss or be informed of any funding or subsidy request submitted by Simone Records to the Government of Quebec.
Mr. Boutin does not sign any request for financial assistance for the benefit of Simone Records, whether based on standard programs or discretionary budgets.
The rules should be stricter
The chief of staff of the Minister of Culture should not be able to communicate with the director of his record company, believes a governance expert.
Michel Nadeau was surprised that the rules in force allow Sandy Boutin to do so.
“There has to be a wall,” said the governance consultant. The fact that he can communicate with his general management, that concerns me. “
Mr. Nadeau believes that chiefs of staff like Mr. Boutin should place their assets in a blind trust.
“It’s very delicate, very, very delicate, this ability to communicate with the person who manages your company while you are in power in Quebec,” said Mr. Nadeau.
Ethicist René Villemure believes that chiefs of staff should be prohibited from having two jobs to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.
“He has to devote himself to his task full time and not be preoccupied with anything else, which avoids conflict and the appearance of conflict,” he said.
Holding two jobs can take a toll on appearances, even with the tags in place.
“The interest is marked out, but the duplication remains, that’s what makes the doubt”, he noted.
Mr. Villemure believes that the guidelines imposed by the Ethics Commissioner nonetheless reduce the risks.
The professor at the National School of Public Administration, Marie-Soleil Tremblay, underlines the transparency of Mr. Boutin, who declared his interests as soon as he took office.
According to her, the current rules are adequate.
“We can never dispel any appearance of conflict of interest for any observer,” she puts into perspective.
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