allegations of conflict of interest refuted by IDE Trois-Rivières

Ms. Laberge is co-owner of Mariana, the only official tenant for the moment of L’Ouvrage, IDE’s flagship project. The agri-food innovation center is currently under construction at a cost of $21 million in downtown Trois-Rivières.

Yves Lacroix, chairman of the board of directors of IDE, ensures that the addition of the distillery to L’Ouvrage was on track well before Ms. Laberge joined the company, in November 2021.

“Somewhere in the spring of 2020, that’s when we made a first draft of the rental lease with Mariana for a signature which followed shortly after. […] I don’t know where there could be an appearance of conflict of interest in relation, at least, to the signing of the lease.

— Yves Lacroix, chairman of the board of directors of IDE Trois-Rivières

As for the work to develop the distillery, discussions are held with the project manager, assures Mr. Lacroix. “Mario [De Tilly] is not involved as such at the level of the Work. He has already gone ahead to discuss other development projects for our city.”

But the subject came up again at the last public meeting of the municipal council on May 7. Citizens have questioned elected officials on this subject. “How is it that the City or the ca [conseil d’administration] has done nothing to date to avoid such a situation?” asked Christiane Bernier, a regular at town hall meetings. As an introduction, she read various articles from the IDE code of ethics and professional conduct dealing with conflicts of interest.

Mayor Jean Lamarche preferred not to respond. “This is a question which, in your very wording, is very delicate. […] I won’t answer you this evening.”

The Director General of the City of Trois-Rivières, François Vaillancourt, shared his experience as an observer on the IDE board of directors.

“Every time I was present, every time there was a talk or presentation [par rapport à Mariana], Mr. De Tilly was asked to leave the room by the chairman of the board of directors. So, the Chinese wall process is applied, and internally, what I know is that he cannot see any documents regarding Mariana either for reasons that you mentioned,” he said. -he responded to Ms. Bernier, adding that his question deserved “other answers” ​​and that he was going to ask it to the chairman of the board of directors of IDE.

This questioning from Ms. Bernier resonated with Gilles Leblanc. “I think we should remove the word L’Ouvrage and call it Mariana,” he said.

The downtown resident wonders if the relationship of Mr. De Tilly and Ms. Laberge has an influence on the project.

“We, the citizens, want to have explanations on this because it is certain that even if Mariana pays the high price [pour la location de ses locaux]they are somehow favored in the use of The Work.

— Gilles Leblanc

“Perhaps you could speak with Ms. Bernier if you have the same concerns and perhaps write down your questions together,” Mr. Lamarche told her.

Mr. Leblanc assured that he was not aware of Ms. Bernier’s approach. “There was no connivance, be sure. […] There is no collusion, but there is an apparent conflict of interest.”

Councilor Richard W. Dober weighed in, saying that the “killing question” is the cost per square foot paid by Mariana to L’Ouvrage and that it would be good to verify it. “Mr. Dober, do it if you want to do it, but don’t let suspicions arise,” the mayor replied.

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Mario De Tilly during a visit to the L’Ouvrage construction site, in September 2023. (Olivier Croteau/Archives, Le Nouvelliste)

Solemn declaration

Asked to comment on this affair, Rémy Trudel, professor at the National School of Public Administration, asserts that, according to him, there may be an appearance of a conflict of interest. “If citizens went to ask questions, there is an appearance of something.”

He adds that the way to dispel doubts is a solemn declaration from the parties concerned, namely Mr. de Tilly, Ms. Laberge and a representative of the IDE board of directors. The declaration must demonstrate that there was no conflict of interest between either party.

It must be submitted to the municipal council. “For the moment, there is an appearance, but only a solemn declaration submitted to the municipal council allows us to lift the veil on this,” explains the former minister.

Mr. Trudel also invites the various parties to demonstrate transparency.

“This movement [la déclaration solennelle] allows you to dispel any kind of appearance. This situation harms the municipal council, the organization involved, one of the contracting parties who is the spouse and the director. To overcome all this, we must be clear and transparent.”

— Rémy Trudel, professor at the National School of Public Administration

Mr. De Tilly’s employment contract also specifies that he “must safeguard his independence at all times and avoid any situation where he would be in a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Mr. Lacroix ensures that the rules in terms of ethics and professional conduct have been respected.

“For anything that may have directly affected Mariana, I can confirm to you that Mario did not participate in any discussion on the board of directors that could have put him in the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

— Yves Lacroix, chairman of the board of directors of IDE Trois-Rivières

He mentions that at the start of each board meeting, members are reminded of their obligations to avoid conflicts of interest.

“I do not tolerate any conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest. If Mario had to be involved in a discussion at L’Ouvrage level that would have affected Mariana, I would have removed him from around the table as I do with other members when the situation arises.

According to him, Mariana has not been the subject of discussions at the board of directors recently. “In the board of directors, we talk about L’Ouvrage, but we do not go as far as the tenants. Obviously, we know that Mariana has a lease because we were made aware of the sequence of events. But in this case, when we discuss it, we will talk about The Work as a whole, but not about Mariana as such.

Regarding the solemn declaration, he believes that IDE already does it through the quarterly declaration of directors. But he is not against the idea of ​​submitting such a document to the municipal council. “That’s a good suggestion. I will take note of it.”

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The Work is under construction in downtown Trois-Rivières. (Stéphane Lessard/Le Nouvelliste)

A loan of 12 million dollars

Due to the inflationary surge during the pandemic, the total cost of The Work increased from $12.4 million to $21.1 million. The IDE board of directors also approved a new loan of 1.5 million dollars last March, we can read in the minutes, due to “an amount of subsidies which turned out to be less than anticipated. The total borrowing amount for the project now stands at $12 million.

The Work will be an eco-responsible building. It is equipped with a cooling system using geothermal energy and solar panels have been installed on the roof.

In September 2023, there was talk that the Mariana distillery would occupy 50% of the surface area of ​​L’Ouvrage. Mr. De Tilly then said that three other tenants were interested in settling there. The distillery plans to open a restaurant with a terrace and set up an aging cellar for its spirits. The work should be inaugurated around mid-June.

Transition to the Solidarity Fund

Nathalie Laberge became general director of the Mariana distillery in November 2021, after a stint at the Fonds régional de solidarité FTQ (FRS) in Trois-Rivières, where she acted as director of investments, between 2018 and 2021.

It should be noted that Mariana benefited from financial support from the FRS, in the form of loans totaling $1.2 million, thanks to files managed by Ms. Laberge, then manager of the Fund. The FRS say they carried out routine checks after he left for the general management of the distillery. However, “no breach on his part in ethical or professional matters” has been noted, it is assured.

When Ms. Laberge announced her intention to leave her position at the FRS to join Mariana in March 2021, all the decisions in the matter had already been made, indicates Charles Lahaye, regional vice-president at the FRS. “There was no conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest when approving the investments, because she had not been approached for the position within Mariana,” insists- he.

In April 2019, during her time at the FTQ, Ms. Laberge also assisted Fab 3R, of which Mr. Lacroix is ​​the president and CEO, in the acquisition of the buildings and land of the Trois-Rivières company.

He does not believe that this past assistance could give rise to further allegations of an appearance of conflict of interest. “At that point, I might be conflicted on several fronts because I deal with a lot of entrepreneurs in life. I’m not just stuck in our house. […] If I put myself in a conflict of interest, it is up to me to see to it and withdraw,” mentions Mr. Lacroix.

He assures that this is not the case with Mariana. “In my heart of hearts, in my soul and conscience, I do not believe that I have put myself in a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. And as president, very often I lead the discussions. Rarely do I take a position, especially when it’s unanimous around the table.”

Outside the country, Mr. De Tilly declined our invitations to comment on the situation.

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