Jacques Ménard has got a batting average that has earned him a reputation as the Alex Rodriguez of Quebec investment banking.
As Bank of Montreal's Quebec president and chief rainmaker at BMO Nesbitt Burns, Mr. Ménard has been handed some of the toughest M&A mandates Canadian business has ever seen. Yet, like Yankees sensation A-Rod, Mr. Ménard has knocked more than his fair share out of the park.
TSX Group's recent $1.3-billion deal to buy an initially hostile Montreal Exchange probably wouldn't have happened - or at least not as quickly - without him. Power Financial's $4-billion (U.S.) purchase, through its Great-West Lifeco unit, of Putnam Investments bore his fingerprints, too.
If baseball metaphors come to mind, it's probably because Mr. Ménard saved the sputtering Montreal Expos - twice. In 1991, he put together a group of Quebec Inc. bigwigs to buy the team from Charles Bronfman. And as Expos chairman in 1999, Mr. Ménard negotiated the financially strapped team's sale to Jeffrey Loria, once again preserving major league baseball in Montreal.
Even the best strike out now and then, though. Mr. Ménard, now 62, couldn't stop the Expos from ultimately leaving in 2004. And BMO's Quebec team couldn't work miracles for Alcoa in its doomed attempt to buy Alcan last year.
Mr. Ménard can accept the occasional walk. It's getting pulled from the batting line-up that really gets his goat.
That is essentially what happened when Quebec Premier Jean Charest summarily shelved the 2005 report on the province's cash-sucking health care system that was tabled by a task force led by Mr. Ménard. The latter watched with similar frustration last month as Mr. Charest did the same thing with the recommendations - including higher consumption taxes and user fees - of yet another government-commissioned task force to plug the province's health care black hole.
Health care expenses account for 44 per cent of Quebec's program spending. They're headed toward almost 70 per cent by 2025. But with the highest debt per capita, highest taxes, shortest workweek, most generous social safety net, lowest productivity growth and most rapidly aging population in Canada, Quebec is already struggling to stay afloat.
What kind of future does that suggest for the young Quebeckers who will be left to pick up the tab for the hip replacements and Cialis their baby boomer grandparents seem to consider a God-given right?
Hence, Mr. Ménard's cri du coeur in the form of a book, out this week, titled Si on s'y mettait (rough translation: If We Got Busy With It). Part reality check, part road map to growth, Mr. Ménard's essay is aimed primarily at the generation between 18 and 35. They vote far less than their elders, seemingly resigned to watching the politicians of their parents' generation mortgage their future.
Few Quebec business leaders these days are willing to go public with their disillusionment with Mr. Charest's failure to tackle such problems. Not Mr. Ménard.
"It's astounding the extent to which Quebec's poverty jumps out at you when you come back from a trip abroad," Mr. Ménard writes, comparing Quebec to a "developing country whose roads have been literally abandoned for generations." Mr. Ménard dismisses the so-called "Quebec model" of extensive social programs as "a Cadillac with a Lada motor."
The debate over the sustainability of Quebec's public services, given the province's relative demographic and economic decline, has been turning in circles for years. In that respect, the most useful contribution of Mr. Ménard's book probably comes from polling data on young Quebeckers and Canadians the author commissioned himself.
It's long been thought that the language barrier and Quebeckers' attachment to their distinct culture is a natural barrier against their mobility.
Indeed, governments seem to take for granted that francophone Quebeckers will never leave home.
Mr. Ménard's research tells a very different story. Not only are young Quebeckers more outward-looking than their English-Canadian peers, they're more willing to move for a better job.
More than half (51 per cent) of Quebeckers between 18 and 35 say they like the idea of working in a foreign country, compared with 43 per cent in the rest of Canada.
Forty-five per cent of young Quebeckers say they would "without hesitation" leave Quebec to work elsewhere if a more interesting or better-paying job came up.
So, if the best and brightest leave, who's going pay for the boomers' new hips?
A wealthy investment banker like Mr. Ménard doesn't have to personally worry about that - leading his critics in Quebec's still-powerful union movement to charge that his policy prescriptions are just part of the same old right-wing agenda to privatize public services.
Mr. Ménard denies that. He admits, though, to having his own selfish reasons for writing the book: "I'd like to watch my grandkids grow up without having to go through airports ... Mea culpa. I've a got a conflict of interest."