Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2006

Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents


Natural Gas Scandal [1958]

"Selling the Gas Works"


Four years ago, Montreal's crusading Le Devoir (circ. 38,000) tangled noisily with Quebec's late Premier Maurice Du­plessis. The point of dispute : an accusation, by the paper that a group of Duplessis' Union Nationale cabinet ministers and friends had a quick paper profit on the sale of government-owned Quebec Hydro gas facilities to a specially-formed private company called Quebec Natural Gas Corp., a subsidiary of Trans-Canada Pipe Lines Ltd. When Liberal Jean Lesage overturned the Union Nationale machine in 1960, one of his first acts was to set up a provincial commission headed by Quebec Superior Court Judge Elie Salvas, 64, to investigate Le Devoir's exposé. Last week the three-man commission gave its version of what happened.

According to the report, after Duplessis agreed to the sale, nine Duplessis cabinet ministers, 31 civil servants, seven Quebec Hydro officials, ten legislature members and 14 friends (1) snapped up 3,412 units (of one $100 debenture and four shares each) of Quebec Natural Gas at the issue price of $140 apiece. On the day of delivery each unit's value had climbed $35 above par for a total paper profit of $119,420. Though the legislators broke no conflict of interest law, the Commissioners "un-reservedly and severely" condemned the purchase.

To prevent future abuses, the Commis­sion recommended stiff conflict of interest legislation to prevent legislature members and civil servants from using their position for private profits. Premier Lesage offered no opinions, but pointedly ordered copies of the report sent to government lawyers "for study." But he will probably withhold any action until the commissioners issue their second volume: a report on Union Nationale's shady purchasing prac­tices, due Oct. 1.

(1) Including Antonio Barrette and the late Paul Sauvé, later Union Nationale Premiers; the late Onésime Gagnon, then Finance Minister and later Quebec Lieutenant Governor; present Union Nationale Leader Daniel Johnson, than an MLA.

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Source: “Selling the Gas Works”, Time Magazine (Canada), Vol. LXXX, No 6 (August 10, 1962): pp. 8-9.

© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College