At the time this article was published Albert
Khelfa was the member for Richelieu in the Quebec National Assembly. This is a
revised version of an address to the CPA Regional Seminar held in Prince Edward
Island, October 27-29, 1986.
In the past Quebec parliamentarians who
practised other professions or had interests in some undertaking often found
themselves in a delicate situation. How many times have we seen some member of
the press or of the opposition raise the subject of a government member's
personal interests? The mere mention of the subject can frequently tarnish a
member's reputation, even if what that member has done is all strictly
In Quebec we have devised a unique method of
helping members of the National Assembly deal with this problem. When a
situation arises which might constitute a conflict of interest, or if a member
wants to be assured whether some office might be considered incompatible with
that of a member of the Assembly, he or she can apply for an advisory opinion
to the jurisconsult.
The office of jurisconsult was instituted in
1982, so that our parliamentarians might have help in interpreting the rules of
ethics. Section 74 of the Act respecting the National Assembly stipulates that
the jurisconsult gives to Members who so request in writing, written and substantiated
opinions on whether the situations they may be in are in conformity with the
provisions on incompatible offices and conflicts of interest".
The jurisconsult's opinion must be given
within thirty days after the request is made. The member thus quickly obtains a
decision which will enable him to take appropriate actions. If he is
considering the purchase of stock, for instance, or accepting additional
responsibilities. The offers may be limited in time. Once a member has
requested an opinion of the jurisconsult and has complied with that opinion, he
has obtained a sort of guarantee. No one can accuse him of any offence,
provided the facts supporting his request are clear and complete.
All opinions handed down by the jurisconsult
are confidential, unless the member in question authorizes their divulgence.
The jurisconsult is in the same position as a lawyer bound by professional
secrecy. He submits no report on the cases which come before him, not even to
the Speaker of the Assembly. Nor is he required to appear before the House or
before any parliamentary committee to justify or explain the opinions given to
Only after serious reflection was the rule
of confidentiality inserted in the Act, even though it can lead to strange
situations. Suppose that the jurisconsult advises a member not to do a certain
thing, but the member goes ahead and does it. The only person aware of what is
going on is the jurisconsult. But the rule of confidentiality prevents him from
saying anything. In this sort of situation, all we can hope is that some third
party will learn what is going on, and will say so publicly.
The Act also provides that the jurisconsult
may submit a report to the Speaker of the Assembly, containing recommendations
on how the provisions governing incompatibility of offices and conflicts of
interest can be applied. The report, however, may not name any member nor
provide any indication as to a member's identification.
The jurisconsult must enjoy the confidence
of all members of the National Assembly. For this reason, his appointment must
be approved by two-thirds of them. In order to preserve the independence of the
person selected, the Act provides a relatively long term of office, a maximum
of five years. Also, to avoid any possible conflict of interest, the
jurisconsult is requested to avoid direct or indirect contact with any issue
involving the public administration. The conflict of interest rules applicable
to the jurisconsult must be spelled out before he or she is hired and before
the motion is passed in the National Assembly. Finally, the jurisconsult cannot
be dismissed except by resolution passed by two-thirds of the National
To date, two former judges have been
appointed jurisconsults. The first, Mr. Lucien Tremblay, was for many years
Chief Judge of Quebec's Court of Appeal. Following his death in June of 1985
Albert Mayrand, retired Judge of the Court of Appeal, was appointed
jurisconsult on February 5, 1986. In an exceptional move, Judge Mayrand was
appointed unanimously by the members of the Office of the National Assembly,
and not by two-thirds of the Members. On December 19, 1985, a short Bill was
passed, under which the provision of the Act respecting the jurisconsult's
appointment could be bypassed. We acted thus because the very brief session
which followed the December election was not long enough to allow all the
consultations required prior to the appointment of a jurisconsult.
The jurisconsult's working conditions were
laid down by the Office of the National Assembly in 1983. The Office had to
consider the special nature of the duty involved, and the fact that requests
for opinions are submitted sporadically. Thus the jurisconsult has been
receiving $15,000 per annum since 1983, plus $100 for each hour worked. The
jurisconsult is also entitled to an office within the Parliament Buildings, and
to the services of a secretary.
Interpretation of legislation governing
incompatibility and conflicts of interest has become very difficult. The office
of jurisconsult meets a real need of parliamentarians grappling with
problematical situations and eager to respect the rules of probity and
integrity laid down in the Act.
This office was set up as a preventive
rather than a curative measure. The Act is concerned with possible situations.
In practice, the jurisconsult carries out formally and regularly a duty which
the Speaker of the Assembly used to carry out informally and sporadically. Some
of the more cautious members would sometimes consult the Speaker who would
never talk about this to others although not bound by any oath of
The office of jurisconsult is not a panacea,
but at least the members now know where they stand. No longer can they plead
ignorance. Since the appointment of the first jurisconsult, no members have
been accused of conflicts of interest or incompatibility of office. Surely this
is no coincidence.