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PAH: A conversation with Adrien Pouliot: leadership candidate for the Québec Conservatives

On January 14, Adrien Pouliot announced he would be running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ). Mr. Pouliot has an impressive track record. He started his career as a lawyer for one of the large Canadian law firm, then joined CFCF inc. as the President’s assistant in 1984 – and helped create the new television network TQS, now called V – and became President and CEO himself in 1992. He helped launch the Montreal Economic Institute and served as its Chairman, worked as President of the Board of the Taxpayers League of Quebec, and became Vice-President of the ADQ’s policy commission. He is now the President and CEO of Draco Capital, and a member of The Prince Arthur Herald’s Board of Governors. He joined me for his first English-language interview since throwing his hat into the PCQ leadership race.

You’re at a good point in your career in the private sector. Why run for the leadership of a party that placed seventh in the last provincial election and won no seats?

I’m running because I’m passionate about Quebec, and I’m saddened to see the direction that this province has taken over the last thirty years or so. It’s always more state intervention; a slow but steady decline of the province because the government has become inefficient and bureaucratic and costly. It just breaks my heart.

The second reason is that I’m passionate about public policy. I was the co-founder of the Montreal Economic Institute and I was on the board there for twelve years and we had the opportunity to criticize and analyze and suggest avenues of solutions to our public policy problems in Quebec, but at the end of the day, it’s all very nice to criticize from the sidelines but I thought it was now time to get off the bench and get on the ice.

I had the opportunity to become independently wealthy so I don’t need the job, and frankly, there’s a lot of negatives and disadvantages of going into politics. Becoming a politician is not necessarily something that will raise your self-esteem that you have vis-à-vis others. It probably ranks below being a lawyer or businessman. That being said, I decided that I had to do something.

Now, which party to join? I did think of going into the race for the provincial Liberals, but frankly the rules that they’ve put in place for the leadership race are slanted towards those who are already insiders. The reason I was looking at the Liberals is I was thinking maybe I could move them right-of-centre. That would have been a big job, but the advantage is that they’re big and they have money and an organization. But they don’t have the right ideas so you have to change their political philosophy.

On the other hand, the issue with starting my own party or joining the PCQ is that there’s no money and no organization, but they already have the right ideas. At the end of the day I decided to go ahead with the Conservative Party because I think there’s a brand to the name. Some people don’t like the brand but there is a ten or fifteen percent support in Quebec for the federal Conservatives. It’s a name that means something to most people.


Do you think Quebecers are ready to have a federalist right-wing party in Quebec?

Well, I don’t know. We’ll find out, won’t we? If I look from a political standpoint at other parties, everybody seems to be left-of-centre. The Liberals and the PQ for me are exactly the same except their constitutional option. For them, government is always the answer to all our problems. As for François Legault, when you actually look at his policies, he’s simply shifting money from left to right. It’s not real change.

There’s no right-of-centre party. Is there a big clientele for it? There have been a lot of political orphans since the merger of the ADQ with the CAQ. I think there’s a courant bleu – the old blue Union Nationale crowd – that’s still around that are pinching their nose and voting for the Liberals because the only alternative was to go with the PQ, but they’re not separatists. I also think eventually a lot of voters who thought François Legault was the saviour and would fix all our problems will realize that he’s offering the same Liberal-Péquiste solutions that we’ve had for the last thirty years.

So yes there is room, whether it’s 5%, 15%, 25%, I don’t know. You have to remember that the ADQ in 2007 had 1.2 million votes. Basically the Conservative Party will have about the same policies as the ADQ, so I think there would be support.


You already mentioned you were against the ADQ-CAQ merger in 2012. Is there anything you think the PCQ right now has more to offer than the ADQ did before?

The ADQ was formed initially as a breakout from the Liberal Party. Mario Dumont broke out with Jean Allaire because of the constitutional issue, which was the focus. I suppose they then did what I did and looked at the other leftist parties and chose to create a right-of-centre party. But it wasn’t an approach that was deeply rooted. The conservative compass was not very strong. They kind of went left and right. They had good policies, but also contradictory policies. When Mario Dumont almost got elected in 2007, he just frankly dropped the ball. He backed off on a number of his free market, smaller government policies.

My sense is that the Conservative Party will have a much stronger ideology with stronger roots and a much better aligned political compass which will always show the True North. The True North is basically individual rights and freedoms, individual responsibility, a smaller state with a well-defined role, and a strong federalist Quebec that exercises all of its rights and powers under the Constitution, but that can also be very successful under a united and democratic Canada.

As a leader, I’m not looking to change my ideas to get votes. My style of leadership is not leadership by polls, it’s a leadership by conviction. We’re not going to look at polls to decide where we’re going. That’s the difference between the ADQ and the Conservative Party.

I spoke to the PCQ’s former leader, Luc Harvey, back in August 2012. He explained that his goal for the September 2012 election was to get their message and name out, but that the real chance for electoral victory would come in the next election. Do you believe the PCQ has the proper framework in place for winning a number of seats in the next Quebec election?

No. I have modest goals. We must first build the foundation. The goal for me is to build the bases of the party with well understood and strong values and a consistent program, then go out there and spread the news. I think there’s a big educational process to put those ideas forward and explain them. I’m not naïve. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I think it’s a question of time and I’m not there to win the next election – I don’t need money, I have the time, I have the passion, and the timing right now is good for me personally.


Do you have expectations to win any seats at all in the next election?

Well you know frankly I would like to have at least one seat. Having the presence of one MNA at the National Assembly gives you exposure. But I think just putting the option out there and talking about our policies will have an influence on the existing parties. Maybe Mr. Legault will be forced to move to the right and if he does that, to me it’s a great success. I’m there to advance the cause for individual rights and freedoms and a smaller government.  If my presence forces the other parties into that direction, then I’ll be very happy.


If you win the leadership of your party and win a seat in the National Assembly, would you ever consider having a coalition with other parties to prevent another PQ minority government?

You know I haven’t thought about that, it’s a good question. I don’t think it should be ruled out. I thought Mr. Legault’s decision to turn down the idea during the last election without really thinking it through was a bad one. If the Liberals and the Coalition were to get together, they could overthrow the PQ and go to the Lieutenant Governor to form the next government without calling an election. As long as we can agree on the basic values of individual rights and freedoms and smaller government and lower taxes, yeah sure, I would think about it.


What type of issues should Quebec be focusing on right now? How has the PQ failed and how have they succeeded in this respect?

One thing I was surprised about with the PQ, and I’ll give them good points there, is that they’re saying they’ll keep a balanced budget. I don’t think they’ll make it happen, but they’re still saying that it’s their ultimate goal for 2013-2014. The priority at this point in Quebec is the economy, and instead of saying that the government is the answer and should be doing this or that, there should be a bigger focus on the market economy and the private sector.

Certainly the PQ is an interventionist government, and to me that’s the wrong direction. If we want to bring back foreign investments in this province, we have to be more welcoming. Increasing taxes on the rich will not raise more money and will simply makes people want to leave the province. All the other parties are talking about more grants and more tax credits and more involvement of the government in the economy. My approach is to get the government out of the way, and let’s create incentives for the private sector to invest and create jobs.

The other thing I thought was amazing with the PQ’s first months in power was that it was amateur hour, considering all the mistakes they made. For a party that’s been around since the 1970s, you would think that they would be more disciplined. But it was just a disaster. There’s so many things that they screwed up. But it’s much easier to talk about the good things they did.


There’s been a lot of criticism of Stephen Harper in Quebec. Do you think he’s handled issues with the province well?

If you look at the policies that he’s put in place for Canada, and Quebec is in Canada, in general it’s more positive than negative. And he’s done a lot for Quebec. He fixed the fiscal imbalance which has been a problem the Quebec government has been complaining about for a long time. He passed the ‘Québécois as a distinct nation’ motion, and now we have some say at UNESCO. He also just sent us $2.2 billion to compensate for the ‘so-called’ shortfall from the GST/QST. He’s doing a lot of things and really he’s not getting anything in return. Even for the crime legislation that strengthens the Criminal Code on some penalties, polling in Quebec shows that most people are in favour of what he was proposing. I don’t know why he’s not getting more popular support in Quebec. I think it’s more a marketing issue. The media, especially the leftist media in Quebec, is always banging on him and not giving him a chance. He deserves much more support than he’s getting.


You said at a recent PCQ meeting that in Quebec, “we’re only in a free country once you get a permit.” What did you mean by that and what steps do you want to take to increase rights and freedoms in the province?

I’m for individual rights and freedoms and a lot of people will say “well it’s a free country,” you can have a political meeting; you can make speeches and so on. But in reality it’s different. Today I had to go to the SAAQ to renew my driver’s license. I’ve been driving for 482 months. I haven’t lost one single demerit point in the last two year period. Why don’t they give permits that last five or ten years? Maybe they could take them away if you lose all your points, but no. Why? Because they want to collect their $100. There are nine million permits and authorizations issued every year in Quebec for various things. It’s incredible when you think about it. If you have a permit, then you’re free to drive. If you have a permit, then you’re free to fish for trout. But you need a permit for everything.

There’s a huge bureaucracy around everything you do. I gave fifteen bucks to the PCQ for an event last year, and I had a bureaucrat call at home to ask if I really went to the event. His papers said I went to the event, but on the electoral list, the name is Adrieu Pouliot – there was a typo, a u instead of an n. So it said I gave the money but only people on the electoral list have the right to give money. There’s a bunch of bureaucrats somewhere checking where these fifteen bucks are coming from.

I’m not saying we should dismantle the state, I’m not saying we should put the security or health of people at risk. The first thing the leftists will say if you talk about reducing the size of government is you’ll cut the size of the police and the firemen and that we’re going to cut health care and the meat inspectors and everybody’s going to die, but that’s not my point. I can’t accept that in a $70 billion a year operation, we can’t trim off 3% or 4% of the fat. Things need to change.


Would you dismantle l’Office québécoise de la langue française and language restrictions in Quebec?

 It’s a delicate issue. My approach is that we should have a French Quebec but bilingual Quebecers. In that framework, I’m totally against restricting Francophones from going to Anglophone CEGEPs. From an economic standpoint I’m quite concerned about the fact that if you want to have an American or European investor in Quebec, when he gets here, he has to send his kids to French schools. I think there are some serious impediments in the Charter of the French Language in terms of the economy. It’s a difficult and emotional problem and I’m not sure that it would be my first priority. The question is, how can we get more people to come voluntarily and speak French voluntarily? If you reduce income taxes, you’ll get more people to come here. You have to find incentives for people to adopt the French culture.


You hear a lot of businesspeople say that Bill 101 does affect their business. As a businessman, do you hold that idea too?

If you are in the recruitment business and you’re trying to recruit a top end executive in Quebec from outside, it’s very difficult. You can get extremely qualified people from outside, but because they can’t speak French, it causes a big hoopla. In a small business I was looking at, the owners wanted to get their certificat de francisation in order to bid for a contract given by the Quebec government. Well it cost them $70,000 because they had to change their signs and they had to change their software and their computers, this and that. The owner was a Francophone and there was no issue there about the French language, so it was $70,000 down the drain. It does hamper businesses. To what extent, I don’t know.


If you become the party’s leader during the next election, will you lobby to get a podium at the debates?

I would be surprised. I will certainly try, and I would be very happy to debate with the other leaders but I don’t know if that would be possible. There are twenty registered parties in Quebec and they can’t have everybody there. In the last election, the Conservative Party had less than 1% of the votes and we don’t have anybody in the National Assembly as an MNA, so I think it’s going to be very difficult, unfortunately.

You can read more about Adrien Pouliot and the Conservative Party of Quebec by clicking here


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