André Fortin, MNA for Pontiac, is Quebec’s youngest cabinet minister.
Before Premier Philippe Couillard shuffled his cabinet on Oct. 11, it was rumoured the bilingual 35-year-old could have been appointed the newly-created Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers minister.
Instead, that portfolio went to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce MNA Kathleen Weil; Fortin was put in charge of transport.
The optimistic politician sat down with Global’s Raquel Fletcher to talk about cleaning up his ministry and what it’s like to spend time away from his two young daughters.
Raquel Fletcher: When the premier shuffled his cabinet, one of the reasons he gave was to make it younger, fresher. You’re now the youngest cabinet minister. Did you expect to be appointed?
André Fortin: You hear rumours about that stuff, but you never really know and it’s really up to the premier to take his decision.
One day you’re in and one day he may decide you’re not, so you try not to think about it too much, but we were somewhat prepared for it.
We thought we might be getting a call, so we stayed close to the phone that weekend.
RF: Did you put your name in someone’s ear, or how does that work?
AF: No, you just focus on your work, focus on the things that your constituents sent you here to do.
Obviously, you try to relay what their concerns are in an organized fashion, in a way that showcases you know what you’re talking about.
But really, you don’t think about that stuff, you try to do your work on a daily basis and you hope they can put your talents and contributions to good use.
RF: You are the seventh transport minister to be appointed in the last seven years.
AF: Am I really?
RF: Yes. One analyst described it as the ministry that no body else wants.
RF: How do you feel about that description?
AF: I’m happy. Hey, if nobody else wants it, I’m happy to have it, but even if other people do want it, I think it’s a department that, at the base, should be a good news department.
You have a chance, in transport, to have a real impact on people’s lives, on their daily lives. Everybody, or mostly everybody, uses the transportation network in Quebec.
To me, it’s a fascinating department, it’s a big department. It touches on a lot of things. There’s a lot of issues to work on, but that’s why people go into politics and I’m happy to be here.
RF: What are you first going to tackle? Whether it’s hundreds of people getting stranded on a highway during a snowstorm or allegations of corruption internally. Or even this battle of Uber going back and forth with the government?
AF: (Laughs.) Well really, what we’re trying to do, what I’m trying to do, is instill a culture at the transport department to always put the citizen first.
It’s something that traditionally, my understanding in the first few weeks here, is we’ve never had a discussion about who the client is — who are we trying to help here?
That’s what I want to instill here as a culture in the department.
We’re trying to make their lives just a bit easier, but yeah, you’re right. We can’t forget about some of the stuff the auditor general came out with. There’s a lot of work to be done internally.
They did a lot of work on that – we’re going to continue that work.
RF: You’re young, you’re obviously enthusiastic. Do you think that will help to combat some of the cynicism we see in society towards politics?
AF: I think you need, around a caucus table, around a cabinet table, you need people of all ages, of all backgrounds; a diversity of people.
So, you need perspective from my generation – from the older generation as well, but we need a variety of perspectives.
I realize I don’t look like the traditional transport minister that we’ve had in Quebec over the years, but I think that’s a good thing.
RF: 35-year-olds also take Uber. I have to ask, what’s going to happen with Uber?
AF: Actually, it was the first file I really had a chance to sink my teeth into when we got to the department.
Uber had been working on a one-year pilot project that was up for renewal two days after my nomination.
My predecessor, Laurent, had set up a very rigid framework for the second phase of the pilot project and we basically just came in and said to Uber, ‘Listen, if you want to operate in Quebec, the terms won’t change with the new transport minister. The terms are the same.’
At the end of the day, they chose to stay. I think it’s good news for the citizen. Now, obviously, we have a responsibility towards the taxi industry as well.
A lot of the drivers have made a significant financial commitment to be able to participate in this industry through the licensing system.
The premier has already said, ‘Listen, we know we have to compensate for the loss of value somehow,’ so we’ve set up a committee.
We want to hear from the industry itself what it thinks is the proper retribution.
RF: So, taxi drivers could be getting cash from the government?
AF: Yeah, they could; and that’s what we’re working towards – finding a fair industry for everybody.
RF: When the premier shuffled his cabinet, he promised an anglophone affairs office and he named a minister in charge of that office. There was some speculation for a while that he might name you.
AF: There was.
RF: Is that something that would have interested you?
AF: My own riding is about 40 to 45 per cent English speaking Quebec, English-speaking Quebecers.
My own wife is an anglophone, so whenever she finds there’s a service that’s lacking in Quebec, she certainly lets me know about it.
I don’t think there could be a better mandate for her; now she gets to build a structure within the government to make sure those needs are addressed.
RF: You’re the father of two beautiful little girls. I think the whole province got to see the oldest one with these little pigtails.
AF: Oh, of course, that’s about all I’m able to do, is pigtails. When you get to something more complicated, I’m out. (Laughs.)
RF: Are you concerned at all that being in politics, and being a minister in charge of a huge portfolio, you’re going to miss a large and important part of their lives?
AF: Yeah, it is difficult. We have ballet lessons on Wednesday nights; I’m never there on Wednesday nights. It does make it challenging.
You need a saint as a partner in life and I definitely have that…but at the same time, it’s something we do, generally, politicians, do for the next generation.
Even if you just change little things that can have an impact on future generations, that’s what we’re trying to do.