Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beyond Quebec's Politics of Division?

Allison Hayes of the Montreal Gazette reports, Quebecers chose 'unity and openness,' Couillard says:
The Quebec Liberal Party staged a stunning comeback 18 months after being ousted from power in the climax to the Maple Spring, winning a majority government in the most divisive and nasty election campaign in recent memory.

The Liberals took 70 of Quebec’s 125 electoral seats and garnered 41 per cent of the popular vote – a stinging blow to the Parti Québécois and its controversial charter of values.

Taking to the stage in Saint-Félicien, after snagging his Roberval riding from a PQ incumbent with 55 per cent of the vote, premier-elect Philippe Couillard said the Liberals will focus on the economy and job creation.

But he also attempted to heal the wounds identity politics tore in Quebec’s social fabric.

“(Quebecers) have chosen unity and openness,” Couillard said. “The division is over. Reconciliation has begun. We will now work together for Quebec.”

Outgoing premier Pauline Marois announced she would step down as leader after support for her Parti Québécois sank to its lowest level since 1970 with just 25 per cent of the popular vote.

Marois, Quebec’s first woman premier, lost her riding of Charlevoix-Côte-de-Beaupréas by 777 votes.

Taking the stage at 11:15 p.m., a poised Marois said she was saddened by her party’s defeat but proud of what the PQ accomplished in 18 short months.

However her parting shot focused on the insecurity on which she based her failed campaign.

“I am worried for the future of our language,” she said. “For 400 years we’ve been speaking our beautiful language in North America... Never forget all the battles we have had to wage. We must continue, we must promote our language all the time.”

PQ cabinet ministers and star candidates heaped praise on Marois for her leadership at a party rally in Montreal.

“We have reason to be disappointed, but we never give up. Ever,” said Bernard Drainville, the minister who championed the charter, who won his Marie-Victorin riding.

“It’s not the end of the story and it’s not the end of the contributions of Pauline Marois,” said Jean-François Lisée, the foreign affairs minister, who won in Rosemont.

Media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau, whose recruitment as a star candidate for the PQ was a defining moment of the 2014 campaign, also took centre stage – perhaps a prelude for the leadership campaign to come.

“Tonight we have mixed feelings,” the former president and CEO of Quebecor Inc. said earlier in the evening after clinching Saint-Jérôme riding. “The results across Quebec were not what we had hoped... we must accept the choice of Quebecers with humility.”

He went on to praise Marois’s leadership and express his “pride” in having made the leap into politics with her.

The PQ won 30 ridings, down from the 54 it won when it formed a minority government in September 2012. Both the Coalition avenir Québec and Québec solidaire posted historic showings, winning 22 and three seats respectively.

The CAQ started slowly, but made steady gains through the evening. Veterans like Éric Caire held La Peltrie, Nathalie Roy won Montarville and Marc Picard hung on to Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. CAQ newcomers like Claire Samson in Iberville and Jean-François Roberge in Chambly helped up the seat count from 19 in 2012.

Legault, celebrating the CAQ’s showing, promised to provide an opposition that is “strong, vigilant and constructive.”
I typically avoid discussing politics on my blog, especially Quebec politics, but this was a crucial election for Quebec and Canada. The overriding message from the majority of Quebecers -- French, English and allophones -- was that they're sick and tired of discussing referendums and the charter of values and want their politicians to focus on the economy, healthcare and education, ie. the important files that unite us all.

I was tweeting my thoughts last night as I was flipping the channel from CBC to RDI watching the coverage in English and French. I kind of felt sorry for Pauline Marois because she is a towering figure in Quebec politics and deserved better. But she opened a can of worms moving on Bernard Drainville's charter of racism and got in bed with Pierre Karl Péladeau, which backfired on her in a spectacular fashion. I think the image below says it all (click on image).

Here are some of my other thoughts on yesterday's Quebec elections:
  • Francois Legault's CAQ had a respectable showing gaining a few more seats from the last election (but losing some of the popular vote). Mr. Legault is an excellent communicator who raises important points on Quebec's crushing public debt but he lacks a real solid team and voters were never really sure what to expect from him.
  • On the left side of the spectrum, Québec Solidaire kept its two seats in the National Assembly in Monday's election and gained a third in the Montreal riding of Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques. Its leader, Francoise David, is also an excellent communicator who cares about the social fabric of Quebec but for all her idealistic talk, the party offers no real economic plan to improve things in a realistic concrete way. Also, Quebecers are sick and tired of being taxed to death, which doesn't bode well for left-leaning politicians here.
  • In the end, I believe Philippe Couillard's intelligence, stable temperament and calm demeanor, his focus on job creation and his solid team were what made the difference and led to the Quebec Liberals' landslide majority government victory. 
  • Having said this, Mr. Couillard and his team have a big job ahead of them. The honeymoon will be short-lived and if he doesn't deliver on his promises, I predict the CAQ will gain significantly on the Liberals in four years (the PQ is decimated, especially if PKP wins their leadership race). 
Apart from job creation, there are other areas Quebec needs to focus on. Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynne, congratulated Mr. Couillard on Twitter last night, to which I replied the following (click on image):

Premier Couillard needs to get on board with Kathleen Wynne and harpoon Harper on pensions. He must tackle Quebec's pension deficits and realize that a sound pension policy pays political dividends. Importantly, Quebec and other provinces must realize that it's high time to stop treating pensions like a political hot potato and build on our successful defined-benefit plans.

I was happy to see Carlos Leitao, Laurentian Bank's former chief economist, win his riding in Robert-Baldwin. Mr. Leitao is touted to be Quebec's next Minister of Finance and I think that's a good thing. If this is the case, he needs to table a budget very quickly and get on with the Liberals' agenda of job creation (Hint: Implement tax free zones like the State of New York and bring investments back to Quebec).

But I have another message for Mr. Couillard, Mr. Leitao and the Liberals. I'm not too happy with diversity in the workplace in our province and think a hell of a lot more needs to be done to promote true diversity in Quebec's civil service and Crown corporations like the Caisse and Hydro.

I also think something needs to be done to revamp Montreal's crumbling financial industry. I've already discussed promoting Quebec's hedge funds but I followed up with a critical comment on them when I went over why the Tiger fund is burning bright. Truth be told, most hedge funds stink, and there is only one Canadian hedge fund I can think of that I'd invest in (West Face Capital, a Toronto based activist fund run by Greg Boland. They got in on OTPP's deal with Saks and are highly regarded as an excellent hedge fund).

Having said this, there are many ways to revamp Montreal's financial industry and it's not just by seeding aspiring managers who wanna start a hedge fund and collect 2 & 20 for beta or sub-beta performance. Quebec needs a plan to attract large investment managers back to our province.

Lastly, I received a message from a Honours Bcom student at McGill University complaining to me that both the Caisse, PSP and Montreal banks are not doing enough to hire McGill grads and that they are not hiring enough minorities from all backgrounds. This fellow is part of an ethnic minority and is understandably distressed, telling me he feels it's next to impossible to land a job in Montreal despite his outstanding work experience and qualifications. He ended his email: "All I know is that the best talent from McGill isn't staying in Montreal for investment banking or investment management. It's a damn shame."

It's not only a shame, it's pathetic, bordering on criminal. I'll tell you exactly what's going on. The Caisse's "Talent Management" department run by a fellow called Frédérick Charette is doing a lousy job promoting true diversity at the Caisse. He's basically extending the same racist policies as his predecessor and implementing all sorts of nonsense policies to shut good people out (wrote about it in my comment on reversion to mediocrity). Also, the Caisse foolishly favors University of Sherbrooke students who complete the MSc in Finance and CFA program (being a McGill alumnus, I laugh whenever I see this).

And PSP isn't doing a much better job either. They pay their top people extremely well (some say outrageously well by Montreal standards) but they have the same organizational issues that they had back when I was working there between 2003 and 2006. Basically, PSP's tricky balancing act is all centered on how their senior managers can get away with multi-million dollar compensation in good and bad years. The turnover rate at that organization is still unacceptably high, which tells you that money alone isn't enough to retain talented employees.

I know far too many talented individuals in Montreal, including yours truly, being shunned by both these "powerful organizations" for all the wrong reasons. Basically, nobody there wants to hire people that are way smarter than them because they are insecure fools holding on to their chair with everything they've got (if they lose their job, they're toast!). This is why the culture at these organizations sucks and why they keep reverting to mediocrity.

There is a lot more but I better stop before I make senior managers at PSP and the Caisse very nervous. They will try (in vain) to dismiss me as a 'disgruntled former employee' but in private, they're terrified of me and my blog because they know I'm telling the uncomfortable truth. In fact, I welcome their feedback on any of my comments but they will ignore me.

One last message to the Caisse and PSP, it's high time you promote our brokers here and put the pressure on foreign brokers and investment managers you deal with to open offices in Montreal. I know, it's a lot sexier dealing with London and New York, flying business class all over the world meeting big powerful hedge fund managers raping you on fees, but it's time to bring some business back here in the local economy.

Below, I leave you with outgoing Premier Pauline Marois' parting speech and Premier-Elect Philippe Couillard's acceptance speech in front of his supporters in Saint-Félicien. I like what he said in his victory speech: "We should all focus on what brings us together. What unites us makes us stronger. Let us say together with passion, 'Nous sommes tous ​fier d'être Québécois.'"

Amen! Maybe it's time to go long Canada again (sorry, not that easy, you'll have to keep shorting the loonie on any strength). Going forward, all Canadians will have to unite to weather the storm ahead.