Couillard's new job is raising conflict-of-interest questions

The former minister is causing more problems out of cabinet than in

D'aspirant Premier ministre à lobbyi$te

Despite the fact that Philippe Couillard was the most popular member of his cabinet - or perhaps because of it - Premier Jean Charest didn't seem entirely unhappy to see his health minister go in June.
But while Couillard is gone from active politics, his ghost returned this week to haunt his former colleagues.
Less than two months after his June 25 resignation, it was announced that the former health minister has become a partner in the newly created PCP Healthcare Opportunities Fund, which will invest in private health-care businesses such as clinics.
The fund was created by Persistence Capital Partners, which in March acquired the Medisys Health Group, a major provider of health services to corporations.
Couillard's role would be to "foster the development of (private) health-care businesses in partnership with the public systems across Canada," PCP said in a statement. The growing pressure on the public system resulting from an aging population presented "attractive investment opportunities" for private health-care providers.
At first, Couillard's joining the private sector was seen by defenders of public health care as a betrayal by the public system's former defender.
But then questions were raised about Couillard's ethics - in particular, whether he had violated a government directive intended to prevent ministers who leave politics from profiting from their former positions.
Among other things, the directive says a former minister must not derive "undue advantage" from his former position. He must not "divulge confidential information" or "give anyone advice based on information not available to the public" that he learned while exercising his functions.
This puts Couillard in the position of having to choose between obeying the directive and his new financial interests.
Obviously, PCP made him a partner to help it make investment decisions on the basis of the knowledge he acquired in his five years as health minister.
The directive could require him to withhold information or advice that would allow PCP to make a profitable investment - or avoid making an unprofitable one. But no one outside PCP would know whether he had done so.
Also, for two years after a minister leaves office, the directive forbids him from accepting a position in a business outside the government with which he has had "direct and important official relations" in the year before his departure.
In an interview with La Presse, Couillard indicated he had begun to discuss a future association with PCP while he was still minister. "In the few days preceding my resignation, it became apparent that we could consider a professional collaboration, but that became concrete after June 25," the newspaper quoted him as saying. (Couillard did not return a phone message left at PCP's office yesterday morning.)
La Presse also disclosed that during the same period, the cabinet adopted two decrees affecting private health clinics, one allowing them to offer more services and the other reducing the proposed fee for a clinic licence.
A spokesman for Charest yesterday confirmed that Couillard was present when the cabinet considered the decrees June 18 and 25. But he said the proposed decrees had been made public several months before Couillard's discussions with PCP.
He said the discussions did not constitute the "direct and important official relations" mentioned in the directive. And he said the health department as well as the former minister had assured the premier's office that Couillard had done nothing inappropriate.
But the office of lobbying commissioner André C. Côté said it was "verifying" whether PCP had lobbied Couillard in violation of the law, since it had not registered as a lobbyist.
And the Parti Québécois called for a formal investigation by the commissioner into PCP's relations with Couillard while he was still minister.
In more than five years in active politics, Couillard never had as much political trouble as in his first five days in the private sector.

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