One of Quebec’s opposition parties, Québec solidaire, has blasted the province’s housing minister after reports surfaced late last week that she was involved in real estate flipping with a business partner who now lobbies the provincial government.
“She herself is part of what is causing us to live in a housing crisis,” said Québec Solidaire (QS) MNA and co-spokesperson candidate Ruba Ghazal on Saturday. “The phone in my riding never stops ringing with people getting evicted and having no place to live.”
The reports first surfaced on Thursday, when La Presse, Ricochet and its French counterpart Pivot revealed that the CAQ’s housing minister France-Élaine Duranceau’s recent business partner, Annie Lemieux, has an active lobbying mandate with the housing ministry.
Lemieux is president of a company that owns hundreds of rental apartments, according to Ricochet and Pivot’s reporting, and she and Duranceau flipped an apartment building together and made close to $2.5 million.
This is the same ministry that just tabled Bill 31, a legislation that would end tenants’ right to make lease transfers, which is a means of informal rent control in a province where the population is increasingly struggling with the cost of housing, especially in Montreal .
The bombshell reports revealed that Minister Duranceau, who himself is a former realtor, and Lemieux have been business partners on several projects, including the 2019 purchase of a two-storey Montreal building on De Chateaubriand Avenue in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie.
They allegedly bought the building for $517,000 and then renovated and converted it into five luxury condos dubbed “Le Briand.”
The units sold for between $400,000 and $800,000 each. La Presse reported that they made about $3 million in total on the sale of the condos. The project listed both women as administrators and Duranceau as a shareholder.
The bombshell reports revealed the minister’s recent business partner had a lobbying mandate with the government and the two of them flipped a building together and made over $2 million.
“What bothers me about this is realizing that our politicians are close to the elite. They’re not close to the issues Quebecers are dealing with,” said former QS MNA and another co-spokesperson candidate, Émilise Lessard-Therrien, on Friday after the controversial story surfaced.
Québec solidaire has consistently advocated for tenants’ rights and affordable housing in Quebec and has been vocal about being against renovations and real estate flipping.
“The news is dripping with contempt for citizens who are doing what they can in the face of the housing crisis.”
“Is she the minister of the real estate industry, or a minister with the common good at heart” wrote QS MNA Andrés Fontecilla in a Twitter statement. “Her past alleged real estate practices show us that the interests of tenants are not her primary concern.”
Another QS MNA Christine Labrie sharply criticized the minister’s past dealings, saying the news was “dripping with contempt for citizens who are doing what they can in the face of the housing crisis.”
Legault stands by his minister
On Monday, Premier François Legault commented on the story and reiterated his support for Duranceau, saying, “Listen, people in real estate buy and sell, it’s part of what goes on in the industry. It’s sure that France-Élaine Duranceau has a past in that sector.”
He continued by saying that it’s a “a plus” that the housing minister knows the real estate sector, and that it’s her responsibility to develop affordable housing as fast as possible.
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“If someone can successfully manage those projects and be innovative, it’s her,” Legault said to reporters on Monday. About the lobbying appointments between Duranceau and Lemieux, the premier said they were discussing the construction of a seniors’ residence.
“It had nothing to do with their dealings in the past.”
This comes after Duranceau apologized earlier last week for remarks she made during an interview on Quebec’s Noovoo television network where she defended Bill 31, saying tenants can’t “use a right that isn’t theirs, to assign a lease to someone else, on terms they decide on when it’s not their building. Any tenant who wants to do that has to invest in real estate and take the risks that go with it.”
After that quote was called tone deaf and offensive, the minister said she was “sorry if it seemed insensitive. It was a legal and economic description of things. On the contrary, I’m very sensitive to what’s happening in housing.”
If Bill 31 is adopted, landlords will have the right to refuse and terminate lease transfers. The current law requires that landlords must have a “serious reason” for doing so.
The bill has been described by housing advocates as a setback to tenant rights and a further step to reduce access to affordable housing.
Global News reached out to the housing minister’s office for comment by email and by phone but did not hear back.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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