The author is a former conservative strategist. He was a political adviser in the Harper government as well as in the opposition.
When the Quebec Council of Ministers was composed last October, I frowned. The announcement of a post of “superminister” with Pierre Fitzgibbon at the head of a ministry for the Economy, Innovation and Energy, but also minister responsible for Regional Economic Development and the Metropolis and the Montreal region, bothered me.
As a former political adviser, I had been asked to react to this tailor-made formula for Mr. Fitzgibbon, which thus allowed him to swallow the Energy portfolio. I was then categorical: it was a false good idea. In my opinion, this special status would shine the media spotlight on this minister, increase expectations of him and, by extension, increase his risk of failure, in addition to favoring a certain polarization of the debates.
At the time, I pointed out that there are only 24 hours in a day and that the title of “superminister” did not change this reality. There are limits to what a minister and his team can coordinate and put into action with so many portfolios to manage simultaneously. In fact, there would have been other ways to accomplish the same goal. But before describing them, an inventory is necessary.
François Legault enjoys an exceptional rate of popularity. The Deputy Prime Minister, Geneviève Guilbault, is also very popular, as the polls indicate. Health Minister Christian Dubé is respected and, more importantly, people trust him. As for the Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, he is discreet, but on his business. Mr. Legault therefore has a solid first trio, made up of good communicators in the people of Guilbault and Dubé, in addition to counting on a Minister of Finance who does his job diligently.
He has an equally important second line when it comes to responsibilities. This trio also makes headlines, but not always for the right reasons. The captain of this trio, with dubious communications, but with very good intentions, is Pierre Fitzgibbon. His assistant captain, who also does not have his tongue in his pocket either, is the Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville. The Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, completes this trio. Its objective differs: it must make as few waves as possible and stay under the radar.
Between these two trios, we find Sonia LeBel, at the Treasury Board, who will have her work cut out with the public sector negotiations. We will therefore wait to see how it will get out of this perilous exercise before evaluating in which group it is located. One thing is certain, it is also very popular with Quebecers.
You might think that Pierre Fitzgibbon, crowned with his title of “superminister” and strong in his political weight, should have been part of the first trio. You would be partly right. It is true that he tends to eclipse Minister Girard, but the Prime Minister felt obliged to make a media outing last week to justify his choices, and that is never good.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Legault used a phrase that struck me during a press conference: “When I get up in the morning, I work for the benefit of Quebecers first, not for the benefit, first , companies. Then, it’s the same thing for Pierre Fitzgibbon. »
That a Prime Minister feels the need to reiterate this principle is surprising. It is still the basis of his job description. Moreover, the text of the deputies’ oath is clear: “I, [nom du député]declare under oath that I will be loyal to the people of Quebec […]. »
Working for Quebecers
It’s as if Prime Minister Legault was repeating his oath as a deputy. However, if he does so, it is because a doubt has crept in. And if a doubt about his motives has been raised, there is a problem.
Admittedly, the departure of Sophie Brochu at the head of Hydro-Québec (HQ) created a stir. But the root of the problem is elsewhere, in the false good idea of having appointed such a “super-minister”. There is a reason why the Economics and Energy portfolios have traditionally not been paired.
I have no doubts about Minister Fitzgibbon’s ability to manage the economy. But did he also need to lead the Energy portfolio? No. Moreover, if Prime Minister Legault wanted Mr. Fitzgibbon to lead more, he could very well allow him to do so behind the closed doors of the Council of Ministers.
Before a decision is discussed before the Council of Ministers, it must receive the approval of a ministerial committee. These are not chaired by the minister responsible for the portfolio, but by other ministers, because it is up to him to defend his recommendations there and obtain the approval of the committee before presenting them to the Council.
The most important committee in Ottawa is the Cabinet Committee, responsible for government agenda, results and communications, chaired by Prime Minister Trudeau. In fact, it is more important than the Council of Ministers. The ministers who sit on this committee are de facto “superministers”, as former Harper government chief of staff Yan Plante wrote in a post in News. No need for a special title, access to this committee allows you to get involved in everything that happens in the Cabinet and to add your two cents to it.
Another possibility: instead of appointing Mr. Fitzgibbon responsible for Energy, in addition to Economy and Innovation, and chairing the committee himself with HQ, Mr. Legault could have created a committee chaired by Mr. Fitzgibbon, Minister of Energy, HQ and others. It would thus have served the same purpose, minus all the problems of perception.
I am not saying that this would have prevented the departure of Mr.me Brochu, but this configuration would have prevented the spotlight from being drawn to one man and, in a more subtle way, would have given Mr. Fitzgibbon more clout to perform the same task.
Clearly, Prime Minister Legault is today paying the price for his false good idea of entrusting the responsibilities of what were previously two ministries to Pierre Fitzgibbon. He has come to have to justify his own motivations by repeating what should nevertheless be self-evident: either that he works first and foremost for Quebecers.