Who will be minister of what?
Posted October 23
In the days leading up to the formation of a new government or a major cabinet reshuffle, the question becomes haunting.
Rare are the occasions when journalists can, in real time, measure up to the omerta that surrounds these exercises. On the morning of the announcement, the reporters present their scorecards, see if they hit the mark or if they were too blithely launched into conjectures.
In these operations, everything is decided at the highest level, but sometimes improvisation. It is enough for a deputy to be choosy in front of the dish that had been prepared for him for the house of cards to collapse and he has to start over.
Deputy Prime Minister under Robert Bourassa, Lise Bacon liked to recall that she had changed portfolio four times during the feverish evening when the boss had distributed the cards. Anecdotes abound on unexpected decisions.
When she formed her council of ministers in 2012, Pauline Marois thought that her faithful disciple Nicole Léger would accept Tourism. But she refused and finally got the Family. This would allow Pascal Bérubé to enter the Council of Ministers by a hair. We had thought of Stéphane Bédard for Justice. It eventually landed at the Treasury Board. Sylvain Gaudreault was convinced not to become a minister. His eminently ministerable riding neighbors were Stéphane Bédard and Alexandre Cloutier, two unavoidable candidates. Gaudreault has however obtained two portfolios, Transport and Municipal Affairs. Giving a voice to a region does not guarantee anything. Saguenay, which had three ministers under the last PQ government, has just voted overwhelmingly for the Coalition avenir Québec.
Under Jean Charest, there were just as many surprises. Yves Séguin bothered Finance, he was offered Justice. To everyone’s surprise, he refused, preferring to resign. At the last minute, it was Yvon Marcoux who inherited Justice when he was destined for the benches rear after serving in Transport. Fortunately for him, we had remembered that he was a lawyer, a sine qua non for being responsible for Justice. The same Yves Séguin under Robert Bourassa wanted le Revenu. It is rather Michel Gratton, the parliamentary leader, who became the incumbent. He will only learn of it at the time of the ceremony in the Salon Rouge.
Lucien Bouchard was not immune to surprises. For posterity, Guy Julien appeared in a checkered jacket in the government’s family photo. Bombarded Minister of Agriculture just before the ceremony, he had not had time to put on a dark suit like his colleagues. Daniel Paillé, Minister of Industry under Jacques Parizeau, was offered a position as Deputy Minister – which he refused – under Bernard Landry, promoted to the head of the economy.
The rear seats
Relegating a minister to the back seats is a delicate operation. François Legault limited the damage by making only two unfortunate Thursday, Pierre Dufour and Lucie Lecours. Without too many problems, he had demoted three ministers since 2018, MarieChantal Chassé, Sylvie D’Amours and Marie-Ève Proulx. After these elections, Claire Samson expected the Ministry of Culture. Left behind, she took revenge by going to the curators of Éric Duhaime.
Jean Garon was hardly in solidarity with the decisions of the PQ government when Lucien Bouchard took away Education, where Jacques Parizeau had appointed him, an astonishing choice. Bernard Landry made stubborn enemies by demoting Guy Chevrette and Jacques Brassard, destined for a nebulous mission of promoters of sovereignty.
Jean Charest had to deal with the acrimony of a Thomas Mulcair, from whom he had snatched the portfolio of the Environment. Ejected from Transport by Philippe Couillard, Robert Poëti put a spoke in the wheels of his successor Jacques Daoust, by raising doubts about the management of the Ministry.
The decision to raise a member to the holy of holies sometimes leaves the hands of the prime minister. Rita Dionne-Marsolais had announced to Bernard Landry that she would remain neutral in a possible race for the leadership of the PQ. “I too will remain neutral at the next reshuffle,” he warned.
In recent days, the noise has filtered that Pierre Fitzgibbon and Eric Girard, two heavyweights of the government, had intervened so that Simon Jolin-Barrette would no longer have responsibility for the language, a request from the business community. Girard will now be responsible for relations with Anglophones.
Sometimes, lined up on the starting line, the riders try to influence the outcome by spreading rumours. Rémy Trudel, then MNA for Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue, knew very well that there could not be two ministers in his region. He spread the rumor that his colleague François Gendron would prefer the presidency of the National Assembly to a portfolio. On the crucial day, Trudel became Minister of Agriculture and Gendron refused the presidency of the Chamber.
Sometimes it is the Prime Minister’s Office itself that prepares the ground. Under Jean Charest, we suddenly learned that Lawrence Bergman, the Minister of Revenue, had health problems. A ready-made excuse to explain a demotion.
To the candid and somewhat overwhelmed reporter who had leaked the information, Bergman pleaded that he was in great shape. “We could go around the parliament together, you would be out of breath before me! “, had launched Bergman, always friendly.
I had not taken up the challenge.