EXCLUSIVE: Robert Poëti reflects on being shuffled out of cabinet, wanting to make a difference

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EXCLUSIVE: Robert Poëti on being shuffled out of cabinet
WATCH ABOVE: Global’s Raquel Fletcher sits down with former transport minister Robert Poëti to discuss why he entered politics and how it felt to lose his cabinet seat – Dec 14, 2016

If there’s one Quebec politician who seems to have earned the respect of all the parties at the National Assembly, it’s former transport minister Robert Poëti.

He made headlines earlier this year when he sounded the alarm on collusion and bullying in the ministry.

READ MORE: Big changes as Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard shuffles cabinet

Now, people are talking about the former police officer again, because the Parti Québecois is insisting Premier Philippe Couillard bring him back.

Global’s Raquel Fletcher sits down for an exclusive interview with the Marguerite-Bourgeoys MNA.

RF: You were with the Sûreté du Québec for 28 years. Why did you decide to get into politics?

RP: In 2012, I was working for myself and I was talking with the media about the public security and explaining things for citizens.

In 2012 — you probably remember — it was for me, a social crisis, not a student crisis, a social crisis.

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WATCH BELOW: UPAC investigates Quebec Transport Ministry

READ MORE: Quebec Liberal Caucus gathers for emergency meeting

[Former premier], Mr. [Jean] Charest told me after: “start there,” and they came to me and asked me to run for them and my first answer was “no.”

So, he said “take a few days and think about it” and finally, he called me the day after.

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My answer was, “I still think it’s going to be a hard election for you, probably the worst one of your life and you are going to lose the election.”

RF: At the beginning of this year, Couillard shuffled his cabinet and you were replaced as transport minister. Was that a difficult decision for you to accept?

RP: Yes, for sure it was, but after you’re shocked and surprised, you have a choice to make.

READ MORE: UPAC reportedly investigating Quebec’s transport ministry

In 2014, I had 24,000 — 26,000 majority; 70 per cent of the citizens vote for me for the Liberal party, so it’s a responsibility.

I decided to stay there and work for them and be responsible because they gave me the opportunity to work at the National Assembly and I’m a spokesperson for them.

WATCH BELOW: Transports Quebec controversy

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Transports Quebec controversy

RF: A lot of people speculated that you were replaced as transport minister because you sounded the alarm about things that were going on inside Transports Quebec: how contracts were being awarded, employees being bullied not to reveal that. What do you say about that?

RP: I don’t think so and I hope not because for me, [the question is] why are we there? To try and be better.
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For me, I think I had a responsibility to talk to the new minister and say “you decide what you want, you do what you want, the way you want, but I have to tell you a few things. What I notice, what I’m worried about and what I think you should do.”

Honestly, it was very, very hard — at least, impossible to talk with the new minister.

RF: Why do you say it was impossible to speak with the new minister?

RP: Well I tried, but he was very busy and I know the job.

READ MORE: Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard insists he didn’t demote transport minister for flagging problems

I did it for two years, but I said “it’s important, we have to talk” and it was not possible.

He was always saying, “yes, soon, yes we are going to” and that’s not normal.

So, some people take the interpretation I made noises because I wasn’t happy — not at all.

WATCH BELOW: New Quebec transport agency

RF: You are seen at the National Assembly as a man of great integrity. When Jacques Daoust was forced to resign, a lot of people said Couillard should reappoint you as minister. 

Just last Friday, Jean-Francois Lisée, the leader of the Parti Québécois said he’s actively campaigning for you to become transport minister again if Couillard shuffles his cabinet in January.

That’s some pretty compelling praise coming from the opposition.

RP: Ah, it’s quite surprising, I have to say.

You know what I discover in politics? Sometimes the opposition can say things to hurt the premier.

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On one side, I could say, “oh that’s nice,” but on the other way, the way he tried to explain it is, “oh Mr. Couillard probably made a mistake.”

READ MORE: UPAC, Auditor General investigate falsified documents in Quebec’s transport ministry

Mr. Couillard didn’t make a mistake, he made a choice and even if I was shocked and surprised, I respect his decision.

RF: Do you want to be transport minister again?

RP: Honestly, I think I participated in a very nice project. I was there to try to help and I think I did the job the time I was there.

Right now, Mr. Lisée and a few other people from opposition saying “oh, you should come back, [even though] they know Mr. [Laurent] Lessard is there now.
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READ MORE: Transport Quebec corruption documents not yet public

That’s the reality of politics. Where it starts, it starts in the riding, I live in my riding and I pass a lot of time with them, to try to help them, the one who need it.

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