Should we fear Super Minister Fitzgibbon?
, Rémi Nadeau , Charles Mathieu and Jean-Louis Fortin MISE À DAY
Adored by many of his peers at the CAQ and tormented by his opponents, the Superminister of the Economy and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, leads the way. Never has a minister held so much power in Quebec, which could lead to slippage and favoritism, say experts. Untimely, the personal friend of Prime Minister François Legault begins to cringe even in the government.
Nicolas Lachance and Rémi Nadeau, Parliamentary Office
“Of course I know people, I know everyone,” said Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon in November 2021, following of a report by the Auditor General. The documents showed that he had used his discretionary power to grant $68 million in financial assistance to companies during the pandemic.
In 2018, when he decided to dive into the political arena, the one nicknamed “Fitz” since his youth was unknown to the general public, but a personality of high reputation in the business world.
Presented as a “dealmaker” (negotiator), he sat on prestigious boards of directors such as those of the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec and Transcontinental.
Four years later, he is the most powerful political figure in Quebec with the Premier.
At the head of the Superministry of Economy, Innovation and Energy, the MNA for Terrebonne is very influential, which raises concerns.
“There is a significant risk, because everything is concentrated in the hands of a single person, who is also responsible for regional and Montreal development. It's huge,” says Louis Simard, a professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in public policy and energy.
Mr. Fitzgibbon's spouse, Isabelle Charest, also sits on the Board ministers.
As he has often done recently, the minister refused to grant us an interview.
Mr. Fitzgibbon has an additional $1 billion to give to companies through Investissement Québec. It was his friend Guy LeBlanc who was placed at the head of the government's financial arm in 2019.
In April 2019, Fitzgibbon appointed his friend Guy LeBlanc (at the front) to the head of Investissement Québec.
Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu announced on January 10 that she would step down from her prestigious position after Fitz took over the reins of the state-owned company.
“It has never been done in the history of Quebec, a Minister of the Economy who is also Minister of Energy”, indicates the tenured professor of decision science, Pierre-Olivier Pineau. This merger, which was “a surprise for everyone”, can lead to the potential for “favouritism” for “very attractive contracts”, believes the expert.
“Unfortunately, by putting a lot of power in the hands of a single minister and giving him the power to decide on electricity contracts, that brings the risk of bad choices, of arbitrary choices”, he mentioned.
For the moment, the risk “is not highly probable”, mentions Pierre-Olivier Pineau, who still believes that the Minister will consult and listen to the experts.
< p>He does as he pleases
Within the Council of Ministers, some point out that he does as he pleases.
“Not only does he lead the way, but he leads the way without consulting”, confides a minister, adding that Fitz goes over everyone's head.
“He likes to move quickly without regard to what he considers to be technocracy, consultations, he moves according to his own understanding, without regard to what [his colleagues] may think. So sometimes he says things to the Council of Ministers and some of us wink at each other. »
A second minister believes that “it takes guys like Pierre to shake things up a bit”, but notes that he “often” carries out his files by relying only on to him. “He manages, on his own, a government within the government.
Several CAQ deputies with an entrepreneurial profile are, however, rave reviews. “We are very lucky to have him”, pleads one of them.
“He will get the cash, admits another elected, adding that the minister is effective. He came into politics for entrepreneurs, not to be a politician. It's the most authentic, right now. »
Attacks on the media
Because of his past as a businessman and his financial interests, Fitzgibbon is undoubtedly the minister most spied on by investigative journalists, who have gone through certain investments raising appearances of conflict of interest, which he does not like. . He took the liberty of making this known, attacking the media on several occasions, mainly the Journal.
His former business ties, his friendships and personal assets have earned him three reprimands from the Ethics Commissioner (see other text below).
He even left his ministerial functions for a few months in 2021 in order to regularize his status. He had to divest himself of his stakes in two companies doing business with the state, after trying to stand up to the commissioner.
Following an article on a hunting party pheasant on the private island of the Province, in Estrie, in which he participated with friends and businessmen, he called Le Journal a “low-end tabloid”, an attack which he has since repeated, still refusing to reveal who paid for his activity.
For this hunting trip, the Ethics Commissioner had also opened the sixth investigation into the Minister.
D Elsewhere, “discomfort” is beginning to be felt because of this type of declaration, which could possibly harm the CAQ, believes a minister.
“He has reprehensible behavior at the respect of the media… There are discomforts that have been expressed to him from above on this, ”he says.
Another Council colleague speaks of “slippage”. A government source said: “We no longer control it. »
“He managed to settle into the boots of the almighty, but one wonders why no one sits him down to tell him to concentrate on his work”, also testifies an employee of cabinet.
Others believe that he only harms himself. His popularity rating has plummeted. According to Léger's most recent barometer, only 27% of Quebecers consulted had a good opinion of him, compared to 39% in 2021.
“He is such a nice guy. All that, it's like none of our business, we let him lead his own way, “said a deputy.
The experts believe, however, “that he is shooting himself in the foot”.
In a short written statement, Mr. Fitzgibbon pointed out that other ministers before him had held important economic positions, including Bernard Landry and Monique Jérôme-Forget. In 1998, in the government of Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry acted as superminister holding the portfolios of Economy, Finance, Revenue, Industry and Commerce.
“He did not have the Energy under his responsibility”, points out Professor Simard. “And, if we continue the comparison […], he was a statesman who knew his workings very well. This is not the case with Mr. Fitzgibbon at all. He is someone who has a lot of qualities, but who comes from the business world […] and that can also be a source of risk, “he said, recalling that the minister admitted that 'he didn't know the Hydro-Quebec Act and the process for appointing the head of Crown corporations.
Gaps in policy
< p>Experts say his shortcomings in politics are very “worrying”.
Pierre-Olivier Pineau points out that the Minister will have to listen to a group of players before making major decisions, because “his knowledge is all in all limited” in the energy sector.
This happens while Mr. Fitzgibbon wants to allocate 10,000 megawatts to new business projects, and Quebec is looking to increase its energy production to achieve carbon neutrality.
“The risk is that we end up with poor allocations of energy blocks, which are not in the interest of Quebec and decarbonization,” he argues.
– With the collaboration of Félix Séguin
A large spider's web
Despite several reprimands, the Minister has always maintained that he has never been in conflict of interests.
Charles Mathieu, Bureau of Inquiry
Some figures clearly show the extent of Pierre Fitzgibbon's interests, while he worked in the business world:
- He has been an officer, director or sole shareholder of at least 38 companies, the Companies Registry indicates. At least 157 people served on a board of directors at the same time as him.
- According to Patric Besner, VP of the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations, this situation is normal. “In a context where you are part of an investment fund, you are going to have a very significant amount of [C.A] to make sure that what has been promised and what is going to be delivered are in tune,” explains- t-il.
Companies that have been linked to Pierre Fitzgibbon Number of people on board at the same time as him
Source: Registraire des entreprises du Québec and Sedar. Methodology: Companies that changed their business number several times were counted only once. Some people may find themselves on several different CAs.
Companies where Pierre Fitzgibbon is the only director, where he was an officer without being a member of the board of directors and where it is impossible to determine who was on the board at the same time as him.
Breaches of the code of ethics
Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet has opened no less than six investigations concerning Pierre Fitzgibbon.
Pierre Fitzgibbon has been elected for just over four years, but in the history of Quebec, never has a Member been blamed as often as he for breaches of the ethics.
Jean-Louis Fortin, Office of Investigation
First Report of the Ethics Commissioner. She believes the Minister was reckless in meeting with aerospace industry players while he owned shares in landing gear maker Héroux-Devtek, but she does not recommend blame.
Second reportof the Ethics Commissioner. The Minister is blamed for the sale of his shares in the company Move Protein. François Legault is “angry” and recommends that his deputies vote in favor of a reprimand against the minister.
< strong>Third report of the Ethics Commissioner, who blames him for having, among other things, omitted several pieces of information in his declarations of interest. This time, François Legault refuses to further punish his minister.
The Legault government is removing Minister Fitzgibbon's responsibilities from the files of White Star Capital and Immervision, two firms in which he still has interests.
Fourth gearfrom the Ethics Commissioner, who blames the minister and recommends that he lose his right to sit as an MP until he divests of his shares in White Star Capital and Immervision. Pierre Fitzgibbon then withdrew from the Council of Ministers. “He does not respect the code [of ethics], and therefore to protect the reputation, the image, the confidence, unfortunately, the only solution is for Pierre Fitzgibbon to leave office”, then indicates the Prime Minister.
Pierre Fitzgibbon returns to the Council of Ministers after finally divesting himself of actions that placed him in contravention of the Code of ethics.
Fifth report of the Ethics Commissioner, who this time clears Pierre Fitzgibbon , after investigating a $24 million investment of public funds in a company one of whose directors was Michel Ringuet, agent of the Minister's trust.
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