For­mer Caisse ex­ec­u­tive at fore­front of Macron’s re­forms

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS - PAUL WALDIE EUROPE COR­RE­SPON­DENT LON­DON

Les­cure has learned the in­tri­ca­cies of French pol­i­tics and makes no apolo­gies for the Pres­i­dent’s re­forms, de­spite protests

When Roland Les­cure re­signed as chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer at the Caisse de dépôt et place­ment du Québec in April, 2017, he ran for a seat in the French par­lia­ment and joined French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s move­ment to re­form the coun­try’s econ­omy.

Mr. Les­cure won his seat eas­ily and now, nearly two years later, he’s had to learn the in­tri­ca­cies of the French gov­ern­ment and the re­al­i­ties of French pol­i­tics. More than two months of gilets jaunes – or yel­low vest – protests against Mr. Macron’s re­forms have par­a­lyzed sev­eral cities and led to vi­o­lent clashes with po­lice across the coun­try. The Pres­i­dent has made some con­ces­sions, in­tro­duc­ing wage hikes for poorer work­ers and tax cuts for pen­sion­ers, but his pop­u­lar­ity has plum­meted along with sup­port for his party: La République En Marche! On Mon­day, the coun­try be­gins a three-month na­tional con­sul­ta­tion dubbed the “grand de­bate” that Mr. Macron and Mr. Les­cure hope will ad­dress some of the key com­plaints.

“It’s been in­cred­i­bly in­ter­est­ing and quite a lot of fun and ob­vi­ously quite a lot of pres­sure as well,” Mr. Les­cure, 52, said from Mon­treal last week where he was vis­it­ing fam­ily. He’s been at the fore­front of some of Mr. Macron’s big­gest re­forms, serv­ing as head of a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee that’s try­ing to make it eas­ier to start a busi­ness. And he makes no apolo­gies for the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce tough mea­sures to change labour laws, pen­sions, tax­a­tion and the size of the civil ser­vice. “Ev­ery time a pres­i­dent has come into power they an­nounce re­forms and, after a year, they have to walk back, turn­around and do some­thing else be­cause peo­ple didn’t want this to af­fect them,” he said.

“This is the first time that we are ac­tu­ally do­ing what we said we were go­ing to do.”

He ac­knowl­edged that the protests raised le­git­i­mate con­cerns at first, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing what many have seen as Mr. Macron’s ar­ro­gance. “The style has been crit­i­cized, and I think to a cer­tain ex­tent un­der­stand­ably, as be­ing too di­rec­tive and not lis­ten­ing enough,” he said. But Mr. Les­cure added that lately the de­mon­stra­tions have mor­phed into a vi­o­lent mob that “has to be ad­dressed in a very dif­fer­ent way, which is se­cu­rity, law and or­der and re­pres­sion when need be.”

The hope now is that the na­tional con­sul­ta­tion, which in­volves meet­ings and dis­cus­sions in 5,000 com­mu­ni­ties, will ad­dress some of the pro­test­ers’ con­cerns and pro­duce al­ter­na­tives. Mr. Les­cure said the de­bate is fo­cus­ing on ma­jor is­sues such as chang­ing po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, al­ter­ing the tax sys­tem and look­ing at changes to im­mi­gra­tion. The gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum in the spring on some of the rec­om­men­da­tions. The con­sul­ta­tion “is ba­si­cally, hope­fully, go­ing to be a gi­gan­tic col­lec­tive psy­cho­anal­y­sis and a bit more, in the sense that we need to or­ga­nize the protest so that peo­ple can ac­tu­ally talk more for­mally and ad­dress the con­tra­dic­tion of the French pop­u­la­tion – which is too much tax, not enough pub­lic ser­vice,” he said. “We have to ad­dress that con­tra­dic­tion.“The meet­ings will also con­sider “the frus­tra­tion that French peo­ple have with their politi­cians and elected of­fi­cials,” he added.

So far, the omens don’t look good. Polls show vot­ers have lit­tle in­ter­est in the con­sul­ta­tion. The gilets jaunes move­ment, which started as a protest against gas taxes, has heaped scorn on the meet­ings. But Mr. Les­cure isn’t de­terred and said Mr. Macron and the gov­ern­ment will push ahead with the con­sul­ta­tion and stick to its re­formist agenda. “I think what’s go­ing to change is the tone and the style, but not the sub­stance. On the sub­stance, we know that we have to do it and we’re go­ing to do it,” he said.

He still has close con­nec­tions to Canada and vis­its Mon­treal reg­u­larly. His seat in the Na­tional Assem­bly is one of 11 rep­re­sent­ing French cit­i­zens liv­ing abroad; his rid­ing is Canada and the United States. His wife and two sons also still live in Mon­treal, and he holds Cana­dian and French cit­i­zen­ship.

One of the big­gest ad­just­ments has been switch­ing from the de­fined roles of the cor­po­rate world, where re­port­ing lines and mea­sure­ments are clear, to the chaos of pol­i­tics. “In the gov­ern­men­tal ma­chine, it’s much more com­plex. It’s harder to imag­ine, to un­der­stand, how you can ac­tu­ally have an in­flu­ence,” he said. It took about six months to fig­ure things out and he has no re­grets about his de­ci­sion. “I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered this as an ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. “I’m here for five years, maybe 10 … I’ve had a good enough ca­reer be­fore so that I’m not look­ing for recog­ni­tion. I’m look­ing for im­pact, and so far I have had enough im­pact to feel good about it.”

ME­HDI FEDOUACH/ AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Yel­low vest pro­test­ers hold a ban­ner de­pict­ing French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron dressed as Pinoc­chio as they take part in an anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tion in Bordeaux on Jan. 5. French politi­cian Roland Les­cure has been in­volved in rolling out some of Mr. Macron’s largest re­forms, which the yel­low vest pro­test­ers take is­sue with.

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