And Montreal makes 3

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National Post, Friday, February 10, 2006

Given the choice, Michael Fortier would not have been involved in this week's media drive-by shooting on his appointment to the Harper cabinet through the Senate.

A corporate lawyer turned investment banker, Fortier was doing very well as head of TD Securities in Quebec, making at least $1-million a year, minding his own business and raising his five kids.

Then came the call from Stephen Harper, asking him to represent Montreal in Cabinet.

Shut out in Canada's Big Three cities, Harper wanted Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver at the table. From Toronto, he already had Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Health Minister Tony Clement, both Torontonians even though they represent out-of-town ridings. From Vancouver, Harper persuaded David Emerson to cross the floor, and has taken a huge hit for it. From Montreal, it turned out to be Fortier, who was co-chair of the Harper campaign.

Fortier almost got to remain in private life. Harper started out wanting Montreal real estate executive Daniel Fournier, who'd been defeated in Outremont. But Fournier, a graduate of Princeton and Oxford, a former pro football player with the Ottawa Rough Riders, still has long-term ambitions in politics, and didn't want to go in through the back door.

Harper then turned to Fortier, who ran unsuccessfully for the Progressive Conservative leadership in 1998, and then as a poteau, a lamp post, for the PCs in 2000. After the merger of the Alliance and PCs and the rebirth of the Conservative party, Fortier was attracted to Harper as the candidate of ideas in the 2004 leadership campaign. The two have since become intellectual soul mates.

Why didn't he run in the 2006 election? "I didn't run ... because I didn't want to run," Fortier replied in one his first turns at the microphone on Parliament Hill.

Which proves that really smart people can say really stupid things. What he should have said was: "It wasn't the right time for me and my family. I'm only doing this now out of duty."

And instead of refusing to run in an early by-election, he will run only at the next general election. That was his second mistake. Fortier also got caught in the larger media feeding frenzy over Emerson crossing the floor. And since Harper advocates an elected Senate, Fortier's Senate appointment obviously drew flak.

The further complication is that he won't be answering for Public Works, the department the sponsorship scandal made famous, on the floor of the House.

All that said, Harper was obviously prepared to take a hit to get something important done -- having the three largest cities represented in his government.

Fortier is a quick study, and he will learn that he can't say the first thing that pops into his head. (He might also lose the two-day growth -- this isn't Miami Vice.)

Fortier was a partner at Ogilvy Renault, the largest law firm in Montreal, known as "the factory." It's also Brian Mulroney's firm, and while they are very friendly, Fortier is not part of the former prime minister's network.

While largely an unknown quantity in the English-language media, Fortier has become a popular figure with the francophone press corps, who went to him often in the campaign to find clues to Harper's thinking.

In terms of the Montreal business community, it couldn't be more delighted. Isabelle Hudon, president of the influential Chambre de Commerce, put out a release on the same day as Fortier's appointment, endorsing it as very good news for Montreal.

No one in the business community is particularly troubled that Fortier is in the Cabinet through the Senate. Everyone in town knows that Harper has a go-to guy for Montreal, and that he controls important economic levers in what is admittedly an historically troublesome portfolio.

At TD Securities, Fortier had become extremely successful. At 44, he was on track to accumulate a significant amount of money in the next few years. No one can accuse him of accepting a patronage post for the cash.

There's only one reason for Fortier to be doing this. The call of duty. The call from the Prime Minister.

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