No spending limit for Pierre Fitzgibbon

Business Finance

The Minister of the Economy can invest as much as he wants to support Quebec businesses

Although Quebec is already the Canadian champion of business support, the Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, does not set any limit on the public funds that can be devoted to it.

“We have a program that is unlimited in terms of what we can do to help the economy,” says the powerful minister during an interview with Le Journal .

The logic of the government of François Legault is simple: the state must do everything to encourage Quebec companies to invest heavily in new technologies to catch up with productivity.

“The rate of automation is estimated at about 25% in Quebec, while it is 55% in the United States and 75% in Germany, says Mr. Fitzgibbon. […] I would like to say, in ten years, that Quebec has made up the difference. ”

In September, Quebec announced more than $ 50 million in business support. In five cases, government funding will cover half or more of the total cost of projects.

The forgiving state

“I am willing to pay more than I have ever done,” says Pierre Fitzgibbon. […] I make loans and I say: “We will measure in time”. If the risk turns out to be too big, there will be a forgiveness on the loan, so it will become a subsidy. But on the other side, if it goes well, we will benefit and we will recover our bet with an interesting return. The financial intervention of the government must be in harmony with the economic benefits that can be derived from it. ”

“I do not hesitate to say what I think. It can be a fault sometimes, but it can be a quality too. – Pierre Fitzgibbon

It is no longer a question that the government’s financial arm, Investissement Québec (IQ), is seeking the best returns every year. “That’s a very short-term, very narrow vision. I say, “We will see the overall economic return.”

On the other hand, Mr. Fitzgibbon promises that IQ will be more transparent about the economic benefits of its interventions. “If I do not do that, it’s sure people will say,” It’s a black box and the minister has both hands in it, he’s doing what he wants. ” That’s not the way I want to work. ”

Calling himself a “special bibitte”, the 64-year-old admits that his style “may not be consistent with what we’ve seen in the past.”

“But for the economic issues we face, people like me, who are more hands-on [involved], I think it’s appropriate. […] I am not superficial. I go deep into the files. ”

More than 200 meetings

“In all modesty, I think what I bring today is something Quebec needs. -Pierre Fitzgibbon

The doors of his office are wide open to entrepreneurs and representatives of foreign firms. From November 2018 to the end of June, Mr. Fitzgibbon had more than 200 meetings, while his predecessor, Liberal Dominique Anglade, had taken more than two years to do the same.

Since he knows a lot of people in the business world, the accusations of conflicts of interest have quickly rocketed. But no matter: he does not intend to resist approving a government investment in a company like Polycor, even if it is represented by a lobbyist who is one of his friends.

“A conflict of interest is when a person puts their personal interests ahead of those of the community they want to serve,” he says. In my case, there was no initiative of the Ministry of the Economy which allowed me to enrich myself. ”

PIERRE FITZGIBBON ON …

The Journal asked the strongman of Quebec’s economic development to comment on hot topics.


SOCIAL HEADQUARTERS

The sale of Quebec businesses to foreign interests does not prevent Mr. Fitzgibbon from sleeping. “We will lose,” he said. I am more concerned about having bigger headquarters, not just in terms of people, but financial strength, which can shine internationally. I think that’s really what we need to focus on. You have to be able to feed these companies, which can become the next Couche-Tard and CGI. This is the focus more than keeping everything that is a head office in Quebec. Then, we complete it with strong foreign subsidiaries, like Airbus. ”


THE ROLE OF THE DEPOSIT FUND

Pierre Fitzgibbon is very familiar with the Caisse for having sat on its board from 2009 to 2012. Could the institution be marginalized in Quebec with the expansion of IQ? The minister does not believe it. “I talk regularly [to Caisse CEO Michael Sabia], not to tell him what to do, but to understand what he’s doing. Because it is very important that IQ is complementary to the Caisse de dépôt. He explains that IQ can “pack up” a file when the Caisse is in the saddle and take over “if there is too much risk” for it.


INVESTMENT POLICY QUEBEC

The reform of the Ministry of the Economy and IQ, which will give the minister more powers than ever before, is raising the concern of some experts that the decision-making process is becoming more politicized. “You can have a minister on the table, but the deputy ministers have their independence,” says the principal. “I do not think a minister can have absolute control. The operation of the Quebec government, fortunately, by the way, ensures that there are protective mechanisms. I’m not worried. ”


PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY

Former CEO of Atrium Innovation, a food supplement manufacturer, Pierre Fitzgibbon has the pharmaceutical industry at heart. Last week, he took advantage of an industry conference in Boston to meet with US pharmaceutical companies. “I made it my mission to bring the big pharmas back to Quebec,” he says. I think that eventually we will succeed, maybe not all bring them back, but you will have some. ”


THE LITHIUM SECTOR

The minister recognizes that lithium mining in Quebec has started badly. The two most advanced projects, North American Lithium and Nemaska ​​Lithium, are struggling. But for the government, we must persevere since this metal used in batteries is destined to a bright future. This fall, Quebec will unveil a policy on lithium this fall. “We, as a government, have to control how lithium is going to be extracted, processed, and sold,” says Fitzgibbon.


PILILY RESCUE

Diamonds Stornoway, Capital Media Group, North American Lithium: Despite the good performance of the economy, Quebec has had to rescue several companies in difficulty in recent months. Savages that have cost the state millions of dollars and whose success remains uncertain. Still, Mr. Fitzgibbon is ready to do it again. The government has a “911 fund” for these situations. “There are no limits [to this fund],” he explains. If there is a lack of money, we will give it back. ”

AN INSIDER FROM QUEBEC INC.

Like François Legault, Pierre Fitzgibbon was CEO. From 2007 to 2014, he directed Atrium Innovations, a Quebec food supplement company that sold over $ 1 billion to foreign interests. Before that, the training accountant had held senior positions at National Bank, Telesystem and Domtar, among others.

Does the fact that he is independent of fortune make him less vulnerable to undue influences? “That’s not what matters,” he says. What matters is that I am independent of spirit. ”

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