NEWS
08/26/2016 04:54 EDT | Updated 08/27/2017 01:12 EDT

Quebec hearings begin into who knew what regarding sale of Rona Inc.

QUEBEC — The former chief of staff to a cabinet minister who has just resigned contradicted his ex-boss Thursday at a special legislature hearing into the controversial purchase of hardware firm Rona Inc. by Lowe's.

Pierre Ouellet told committee members that Jacques Daoust was informed about the intention of government agency Investissement Quebec to sell its 11 million Rona shares for $140 million in 2014, two years before Lowe's paid $3.2 billion for the Quebec giant.

Daoust, who was economy minister in 2014, has always maintained he and the government were not consulted about the sale of the Rona shares before it took place.

In an Aug. 19 statement when he announced his resignation, Daoust wrote he "wasn't informed of the intention of the administrators of Investissement Quebec to sell their shares in Rona."

Ouellet told the committee, however, that Daoust knew of the intention to sell. He quoted his ex-boss as saying, "it's their (Investissement Quebec's) responsibility; they'll live with the consequences."

Daoust was later named transport minister but resigned last week after some of Ouellet's 2014 emails were leaked to the media and which seemed to indicate the then-economy minister knew about the divestment of Rona shares.

Quebec's opposition parties say the government did nothing to prevent a company considered important to the province's pride and identity from being sold to Americans.

Parti Quebecois member Alain Therrien said he believes Investissement Quebec's sale of its Rona shares was the result of a political order.

Amir Khadir of the left-leaning Quebec solidaire questioned what role Premier Philippe Couillard played in the sale and whether he knew about the divestment of shares before it happened.

Ouellet told the committee he never spoke about the Rona sale with the premier's office before this past June.

In 2012, then-premier Jean Charest authorized Investissement Quebec to buy millions of Rona shares to thwart any hostile takeover by Lowe's of the company.

This year's deal between the two companies was a friendly one.