Quebec's Environment Minister Daniel Breton is at the centre of another embarrassing controversy after news reports revealed that his unruly past included several convictions including employment insurance fraud.
In September 1988, Mr. Breton pleaded guilty to three fraud charges after making false statements under the former unemployment insurance act. He was fined $100 for each infraction for a total fine of $300.
"All of this happened so long he doesn't even remember it," said Mr. Breton's spokesperson Danielle Rioux who confirmed the reports.
She also confirmed that Mr. Breton was in negotiation with his former landlord who was demanding $7,000 in unpaid rent. "He is in the process of making arrangement to pay the rent," Ms. Rioux said.
The Minister's past included numerous run-ins with the authority. In 2007 the recalcitrant Minister was fined $400 after being prosecuted by the Quebec Ministry of Revenue for failing to file his income tax return. Ms. Rioux explained that Mr. Breton had returned to university as a full time student and thought that because he had little income at the time and didn't owe the government any money he could delay filing his income tax return. "But the Ministry of Revenue saw otherwise and so he was fined," she said.
The list of infractions also include several speeding violations for which Mr. Breton had been charged including a high speed infraction while driving a rented sports car. He was also charged with driving under a suspended license, which was revoked for a year after being convicted of several speeding violations.
"There are no criminal charges involved in any of these violations," Ms. Rioux insisted. "The Premier's office knew about the infractions. Mr. Breton underwent a police background check before being appointed Minister. The Premier didn't believe these were the type of infractions that could prevent Mr. Breton from performing his duties as Environment Minister," Ms. Rioux said.
A spokesperson for the Premier's office Shirley Bishop said Ms. Marois will defend her Minister should he come under opposition attacks. She added that the Premier was aware of all the infractions except perhaps the fraud charges under the unemployment insurance act. "This happened almost 25 years ago. It amounted to a $300 fine. He paid his debt to society and that's all there is too it," Ms. Bishop said.
The revelations will likely fuel opposition demands that Premier Pauline Marois fire Mr. Breton. Both the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Quebec have been gunning for Mr. Breton's resignation for days after the Minister was accused of intimidation and political interference involving the province's environmental assessment board.
Last week the two opposition parties banded together to adopt a motion that will require Mr. Breton to appear before a National Assembly committee to explain why he held private meetings with board members last October 24. The opposition alleged that the Minister attempted to impose his vision on environmental reviews. Mr. Breton explained that he simply paid a courtesy visit to the board members.
There has been constant criticism from business circles and opposition benches that Mr. Breton, a staunch environmental activist before entering politics would obstruct the board's independence. Within weeks of being sworn-in as Minister he fired the board's president and vice-president. During his days a vocal environmental activist Mr. Breton had strongly criticized the environmental assessment board for being too close to the province's business interest. The board is now headed by commissioners who were more in tune with the concerns raised in the past by the Mr. Breton by several environmental groups in the province.