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‘Better is always possible’ for feds’ relationship with Quebec, says new Liberal Quebec caucus chair Massé

The newly elected Quebec caucus chair Rémi Massé wants to strengthen Quebec’s voice at the decision-making table and strengthen ties with the provincial government on key files like infrastructure and health care.

Quebec Liberal caucus chair Rémi Massé, pictured in his Parliament Hill office. 'I launched myself into politics because I wanted to defend the interest of my people.' The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello

PUBLISHED :Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 3:55 PM

PARLIAMENT HILL—Liberal MP Rémi Massé, the new chair of the Quebec Liberal caucus, says he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to know that Quebec MPs are in tune with what’s happening on the ground in the province and they want more influence on the government’s decision-making process in the province.

“Better is always possible, so I think it’s worth continuing to build strong relationships, making sure that the perspectives of an MP [are] being taken into consideration, because MPs are the ones on the ground talking to their citizens,” said Mr. Massé (Avignon-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia Que.) in a sit-down interview. “Even though we are the federal government, we’re still citizens of this riding, and we have also a perspective on what’s going on provincially.”

Mr. Massé, 47, was elected as the new federal Liberal Quebec caucus chair during last week’s caucus meeting, after holding the vice-chair spot for more than a year.

He said Quebec MPs have already played significant roles, but under the radar, on files like Bombardier, and diafiltered milk, but when looking ahead at public policy issues like heath care and the long list of infrastructure projects needed in the province, he said he wants to make sure those MPs have “concrete results” that they can point to when they knock on doors in the next election campaign in about two years.

  

In order to put the Quebec Liberal MPs in a good position for the 2019 election, Mr. Massé said he wants to make sure that he facilitates a clear, focused position on behalf of the province, and that he helps bring a “Quebec perspective” to Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and the ministers.

“Because we come from different backgrounds—whether we were entrepreneurs, whether we were federal government employees, or executives, whether we were a doctor, or an engineer—we bring this collective knowledge and expertise and experience for the good of Quebec, and Canada,” Mr. Massé said.

Rémi Massé with National Revenue Minister and MP for Gaspésie-Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., Diane Lebouthillier. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

The 38-member Quebec Liberal caucus, excluding Mr. Trudeau, meets on Wednesday mornings when the House is sitting before the entire Liberal caucus meets, as the other regional caucuses do. He said there is typically a full attendance and described the MPs as a “disciplined” and “united” group. He said the MPs will also often talk in the government lobby throughout the week.

“It took a certain time for us to figure out how politics works, because we’re all new, almost all new,” he said, describing the Quebec caucus. Now that he’s gotten his sea legs, Mr. Massé said he wants to lead with a style of bringing people together and use the different lenses from MPs who represent urban or rural parts of the province as a strength, not a weakness.

  

He said his three main priorities in his role are: to make sure the Quebec caucus brings one precise focus to the prime minister and to cabinet, to ensure they can deliver concrete results on Quebec issues; to make sure “that the communication goes both ways, so that we can help cabinet and the PM make the right decisions on Quebec issues”; and to build closer ties with the government of Quebec, to help move projects along.

On the latter point, Mr. Massé said he wants to be a better caucus liaison and anticipates working on his connections with members of the Quebec National Assembly as well.

Another goal for him is to work more closely with the other Liberal caucus chairs, he said.

“I launched myself into politics because I wanted to defend the interest of my people,” he said. “I didn’t need to do politics, and it had never been the plan, but we live in a region where there is a lot of economic challenges … so I did this to reconnect my region with Ottawa, with the federal government.”

  

Mr. Massé coming out of a national caucus meeting in May 2016. Photo by Jake Wright.

He said for many years his riding, which was previously held by the Bloc Québécois, felt “disconnected from Ottawa” and turning that around is key to maintaining support in a lot of Quebec ridings. He added that he’s already seen progress, pointing to a $255,000 grant from the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions for FIDEL, a group of local business people supporting new entrepreneurs in his riding.

Before entering politics, Mr. Massé worked for nearly two decades as a senior manager and executive in federal departments, both in Ottawa and in his riding, including as a general manager at Public Services and Procurement Canada, then-called Public Works and Government Services Canada; as a deputy director at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and as a manager both at Health Canada and at the Department of Justice. Most recently, before running as an MP, he worked as a general manager of the Matane Cégep.

His wife, Helen, is British and the two have raised their four young sons—Gabriel, William, Eli, and Addison—to be bilingual, to the point where Mr. Massé said when the boys communicate with each other, it’s often a mashup of both languages. Mr. Massé added that when he’s home, it’s usually all the distraction from politics that he needs, but that when it comes to fun, he considers himself a bit of an adrenaline junkie; he used to race snowmobiles and motorcycles.

Mr. Massé is also a member of the House Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee and the House Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee. Up until a few weeks ago, he had also been working with parliamentary secretaries Terry Duguid (Winnipeg South, Man.) and Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton-Canso, N.S.), on studying the quality of Employment Insurance Service. Now that the report has been released, however, he said he will use that free time to focus on his new caucus chair duties.

Mr. Massé in his Wellington building office next to a photo that his wife Helen took of their four boys: Eli, Gabriel, Addison, and William. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he said, adding that despite a number of “big jobs” he’s tackled in the past, he’s never worked so hard.

Outgoing Quebec caucus chair Marc Miller (Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, Que.) joined the parliamentary secretary ranks as parliamentary secretary to Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.) in January, leaving the spot vacant. Mr. Massé ran against Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Que. MP Linda Lapointe for the role.

The Hill Times