Sparks are flying between Hydro-Quebec and Natural Resources Minister Christos Sirros. The utility and Sirros are waging an embarassing public battle over how to deal with a scandal involving a former aide to Premier Robert Bourassa.

Mario Bertrand, who was Bourassa’ chief of staff, sits on the board of directors of Hydro-Quebec, but also is involved with a private company that has made enormous profits from its dealings with Hydro. The company, whose

name is M3i, grew from seven to 350 employees in just three years in large part because of leading-edge software given to M3i by Hydro-Quebec. Bertrand’s shares in the company have increased in value from $10,000 to over $1 million.

Sirros has called on Bertrand to give his profits back to the government. The minister is being supported by the Justice Ministry, which also believes Bertrand acted improperly. But Hydro-Quebec says Bertrand has done nothing wrong, and has gotten independent legal advice to back up its case.

In early July, Yves Fortier, a prominent Montreal lawyer, agreed with Hydro-Quebec, saying Bertrand should not have to give any money back to the government. Embarassed just weeks before a provincial election, Sirros responded by saying that the government will punish Bertrand even if Hydro refuses to.