(Ottawa) Prime Minister François Legault is not the only one to regret the resignation of his Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon. In Ottawa, several ministers of the Trudeau government also deplore his departure.
Posted on June 5, 2021 at 8:00 a.m.
In the federal capital, Pierre Fitzgibbon was considered the preferred interlocutor who allowed fruity exchanges on the lines of communication between Ottawa and Quebec. His goal was always the same: to settle cases quickly and to iron out differences. He was all the more appreciated as he was not the type to “get caught up in the flowers of the constitutional carpet.”
His eagerness to conclude “deals” has sometimes taken his close associates by surprise. He has sometimes made commitments without notifying his chief of staff or deputy minister.
“Pierre is the person who always wanted to make“ deals ”. This comes from his experience as a businessman, no doubt, ”says one in the Liberal ranks in Ottawa.
Also, it was well known in power circles in Ottawa that Pierre Fitzgibbon had the ear of Prime Minister Legault.
Mr Fitzgibbon announced his resignation from the Council of Ministers on Wednesday. The publication of another report by Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet prompted his departure. The commissioner ruled that Mr. Fitzgibbon was “still, to this day, in breach of Article 46 of the Code” of ethics. This article provides that a minister cannot have interests in companies doing business with the state.
“I’ll call Pierre. This sentence had become recurrent in the mouths of certain federal ministers of Quebec for a few months when a blockage arose in a federal-provincial file. In his own way, Pierre Fitzgibbon indirectly wore the hat of Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The financing of the construction of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) station at the Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau international airport is a convincing example.
After the Minister of Transport of Quebec, François Bonnardel, had abruptly put an end to the talks between Ottawa and Quebec on a financial package to ensure the construction of this station considered crucial for the metropolis, the federal ministers set their sights on Pierre Fitzgibbon.
While Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), deprived of revenue because of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, demanded assistance to finance the project valued at $ 600 million, Minister Bonnardel withdrew from the discussions. He argued that the project should be funded solely by Ottawa because the airport was federally owned infrastructure.
The Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Mélanie Joly, then made multiple phone calls with Mr. Fitzgibbon to get Quebec to change its mind. The latter was in favor of financial participation from Quebec. “He represents a riding of Terrebonne. He understands the importance of this project for Montreal. Above all, he understands the needs of the metropolis well, ”we insisted in Ottawa.
These efforts have borne fruit. At the start of the year, the Legault government was back at the table. A few weeks later, an agreement was announced to ensure the construction of the station. The financial package provides for a repayable loan of $ 300 million from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, $ 100 million from the federal Department of Transport and $ 100 million from the Legault government. ADM will have to pay the rest, ie 100 million.
Pierre Fitzgibbon was also at the forefront of finding a financial solution to ensure the presence of the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal in the long term. To get there, he made good use of his close ties with some federal ministers to make sure Ottawa got involved as well.
If the Legault government was able to recently announce significant investments, with financial support from Ottawa, to fulfill its promise to connect all households in Quebec to high speed internet by the end of its mandate, it is is in part thanks to the behind-the-scenes work of Pierre Fitzgibbon. To date, Quebec is the only province to have entered into such an agreement with the Trudeau government. Ontario is now seeking to emulate Quebec.
Mr. Fitzgibbon was equally involved in the revival plan for downtown Montreal, together with Minister Joly, to restore the soul of the metropolis to its pre-pandemic dynamism.
It is moreover the pandemic which gave rise to a rapprochement between Mr. Fitzgibbon and Mr.me Joly. While the crisis was at its height, the two met at the rate of once a week – it has been spaced every two weeks for some time – in order to take stock of the situation and the projects on the table to support businesses and workers in the two capitals. This has sometimes made it possible to tie up the various aid programs, quickly set up in Ottawa and Quebec, to prevent the economy from collapsing.
After analysis, Mr. Fitzgibbon is one of the few provincial ministers to have succeeded in forging such productive working relations with his federal counterparts, it is also argued in the Liberal ranks.
The only example we bring up and compare is the great detente between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland. Last year Mr. Ford kept singing the praises of Mr.me Freeland, who was then Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. They frequently texted each other. The relaxation was such that Mr. Ford even praised the work of Justin Trudeau and had indicated that he did not intend to interfere in the next federal campaign.
Butme Freeland was transferred to the Department of Finance last August and her schedule no longer allows her to interact as much with Mr. Ford. In recent weeks, the latter has gone to war against the Trudeau government. He accuses him of having delayed too long in tightening border control measures – a way to hold him responsible for his mismanagement of the pandemic in his province.
Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard has been entrusted with the functions held by Pierre Fitzgibbon. “It will not be the same dynamic with Minister Eric Girard. He’s very cerebral. And he does not have the same intensity to conclude deals like Pierre Fitzgibbon, ”it is argued.
It is not yet clear whether the resigning minister will be a candidate in the next provincial elections, which will take place in 18 months, or if he will one day return to the Council of Ministers. In Ottawa, we are crossing our fingers for a possible return of the man who will have discreetly modified relations between the two capitals.