A man nicknamed 'Goon' becomes Quebec's environment minister

QUEBEC – Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has shuffled her cabinet to fill the environment portfolio left vacant when a minister quit over financial imbroglios.

Marois announced Tuesday that one of her leadership loyalists, Yves-Francois Blanchet, is the new environment minister.

He succeeds Daniel Breton, who resigned last week after published reports linked him to various ethical transgressions, including EI-related fraud and non-payment of rent.

The new minister’s record is not perfectly clean either.

Blanchet was found guilty in 2010 of a DUI-related charge after police found him intoxicated at the wheel of his parked car in 2008. He said he was only there to charge his phone battery. Blanchet paid a $1,000 fine and had his licence suspended for a year.

However, unlike his predecessor’s past legal scrapes, Blanchet’s criminal charge was public knowledge and had been widely reported long before he was named a minister.

Marois paid tribute to her new environment minister.

“If you know the slightly fiery character of Yves-Francois Blanchet you’ll have no doubt about his capacity to fight for this portfolio — which isn’t always an easy one,” Marois said.

The comment drew laughs from reporters at a news conference. Blanchet had earned the nickname, “Goon,” around Quebec’s national assembly as a staunch defender of the PQ leader while other caucus members challenged her leadership back when she was in opposition.

Blanchet, who managed popular Quebec singer Eric Lapointe before entering politics in 2008, had been the party whip since the PQ won the Sept. 4 election with a minority.

Opposition parties were less than laudatory of the new minister.

“There needs to be a balance between economic development and environmental protection,” Coalition party Leader Francois Legault said.

“(But) Mr. Blanchet has shown us excessive partisanship.” He suggested that his greatest qualification for the job was that he had strongly defended Marois. “He’s a guy with big arms,” Legault said.

Marois also announced a return to cabinet for Veronique Hivon. Hivon stepped down in October to focus on her pregnancy but recently suffered a miscarriage.

She will resume her previous role as junior health minister.

It was a bittersweet day for the new environment minister.

Blanchet had sponsored a motion to remove the Canadian flag from the provincial legislature’s Red Room, as in past times the PQ held office. His motion was defeated in a vote several hours after his ministerial appointment.

Blanchet described the vote result as sombre, mildly shameful — and an affront to tradition, to protocol, to dignity, and to the notion that Quebec controls its own parliament.

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