TORONTO, FEB. 3 -- Prime Minister Brian Mulroney fired his supply and services minister last night for breaking rules on conflict of interest, the eighth Cabinet member to leave the three-year-old government under a cloud.

Aides to Mulroney emphasized that Mulroney demanded the departure of Michel Cote -- a Quebec City accountant who had served as minister for two patronage-rich departments -- and that the prime minister acted only hours after learning Cote had failed to report a personal loan.

On a previous occasion, Cote, 45, and his predecessor had embarrassed the government by handing out grants to so many industries that they overspent the $900 million annual budget of the regional development ministry by $100 million.

"I've read the riot act time and time again both to my caucus and to my ministers," Mulroney told reporters in Ottawa today. He provided no details about the loan.

{Cote was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "This situation never placed me, not by any means, in a position of conflict in reference to my ministerial duties . . . . This friend never benefited from any special treatment or privilege from me."}

A poll by Angus Reid Associates that was published in several major Canadian newspapers today found that before the latest incident, a majority of voters who were questioned said Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party was the least likely of the three national parties "to provide open and honest government" and the one most likely to "misuse the {patronage} system."