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Banker Jacques Ménard strove to improve many aspects of life in Quebec

By on February 15, 2020 in Articles with 0 Comments

Jacques Ménard was a dynamic force in many different slices of public life in Quebec, from banking to ballet and baseball to electricity. Early in his finance career he decided to devote 20 per cent of his time to social and cultural causes outside his primary occupation.

Mr. Ménard, who died on on Feb. 4, less than a week after his 74th birthday, was president of BMO Financial Group in Quebec, a supporter of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and chairman of the Montreal Expos baseball team and Hydro-Québec, and that is just a partial list.

“Jacques Ménard was a great citizen, involved in every aspect of the community,” former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard said.

After he became premier in 1996, Mr. Bouchard came to know and respect Mr. Ménard, who was part of a panel studying economic problems in the province with a view to cutting the deficit.

Mr. Bouchard appointed Mr. Ménard as chairman of Hydro-Québec that year in spite of the objections of members of the Parti Québécois because Mr. Ménard was a Liberal.

Louis Jacques Ménard – he never went by Louis – was born on Jan. 29, 1946, in Chicoutimi, in Quebec’s Lac Saint-Jean region, but his family moved to Montreal when he was a child and he grew up in the city. He attended high school at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, an elite French-language school founded by Jesuits, then he went to Loyola College, an English-language Jesuit school now part of Concordia University. After earning an honours degree in economics at the University of Western Ontario, he went to work for the investment dealer Burns Brothers and Denton, which was eventually absorbed into the Bank of Montreal.

He rose to become chairman of Nesbitt Burns as well as the president of BMO Financial Group in Quebec. Mr. Ménard was a skilled deal maker and knew the most influential bankers, lawyers and investment types in the province and the rest of Canada.

His interest in sports led him to serve on the board of the Montreal Alouettes football team and as chairman of the Montreal Expos. He also worked on a deal to find a buyer for the Montreal Canadiens in 2009, when the team was owned by an American and the ownership was in play.

“The team is a part of the cultural identity of Quebec. The team is here to stay whichever way things turn out,” he said just before a deal was done to keep the team in Canadian hands.

The banker’s public service started early in his career, when he became involved with Oxfam in Canada.

“I became president of Oxfam and I got the taste of getting involved in not-for-profit work,” Mr. Ménard told The Globe in 2009. He spent the rest of his life moving among the corporate world, government, arts groups and charities.

Darryl White, the current chief executive of the Bank of Montreal, says Mr. Ménard was ahead of his time when it came to combining public and private work.

“The narrative that seems to be catching a bit of a wave right now is on stakeholder capitalism. It’s the notion that corporations are in service, not only to the shareholders but also to the community of the customer, the supplier and the employee. I would say that Jacques wrote the book on that 40 years ago and was practising it and teaching it to the rest of us,” Mr. White said.

Speaking of books, Mr. Ménard wrote three. One of them, Si on s’y mettait (Let’s Get On With It), from 2008, is a cri du coeur for building a more dynamic society in Quebec, noting the links between problems of health, poverty and education.

In 2005, Jean Charest, who was premier of Quebec at the time, asked Mr. Ménard to head a working group on the future of the province’s heath-care system.

“They produced a very ambitious plan to maintain the financial sustainability of the health-care system including a proposed increase in the sales tax on the eve of our 2007 election campaign. Bad timing and yet interesting that a banker would be supporting this recommendation,” Mr. Charest said.

“I think he will be most remembered for his heroic efforts to mobilize civil society in Quebec to what was the high dropout rate in the Quebec high school system. His efforts contributed to a major initiative to reduce the dropout rate that proved to be very successful.”

Mr. Ménard said his work on health care led to his push to keep young people in school.

“Education is one of the key pre-determinants to how people use the health-care system, the social services system – before they probably should,” Mr. Ménard told The Globe and Mail. “The relationship between a population’s education and poverty is pretty clear. You have to conclude if there was one priority we need to face in North America, it is that one-third of kids drop out.”

He went on to point out the rate was higher in Quebec.

On the issue of the welfare state, Mr. Ménard said that in Quebec he preferred to make society more prosperous to pay for social benefits rather than cutting. He rejected the suggestion that his solution was right-wing.

“If anything, I view myself more as a left-winger who believes that there is a role for government in terms of responding to the public good.”

His belief in the pursuit of the public good led Mr. Ménard to serve as vice-chairman of a federal task force looking into financial literacy and to work on a major study with the Boston Consulting Group aimed at revitalizing Montreal’s economy.

On the corporate front, Mr. Ménard was chairman of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada and was involved with the Montreal Stock Exchange, the Economic Council of Canada and the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. He was a director of WestJet and one of his colleagues said he was proud that his business acumen was recognized by a company from Western Canada.

In the cultural sphere, he served on the board of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and as a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s executive committee.

“When I came back to private life [after politics] as a lawyer, I worked with him on mergers in his capacity at the Bank of Montreal as well as many philanthropic efforts,” said Mr. Bouchard, who is a partner with Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg in Montreal. “Jacques was treasurer of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra when I was its chairman. The orchestra was in bad shape at the time and he helped turn it around.”

Once again, Mr. Ménard was linking the corporate world with the cultural world. One of the major roles of an outside director with an arts organization is raising money, and as a senior bank executive he knew who to go to.

“Mr. Ménard played an important role in the development of the orchestra, both as an individual and in his capacity as president of BMO,” said Madeleine Careau, chief executive of the orchestra, which will dedicate a concert to Mr. Ménard’s memory on Feb. 19 at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

Mr. Ménard’s public service was recognized by his appointment to the Order of Canada in 1995, followed by two promotions that ultimately raised him to the Order’s highest level, companion, in 2012. The number of living Canadians who are companions is strictly limited to 150 at any time.

Mr. Ménard was also one of 11 prominent Canadians – including Karen Kain and Beverley McLachlin – on the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada.

The citation for his promotion to companion said, in part: “One of the most respected administrators in the country, Jacques Ménard is first and foremost an example of civic engagement.”

Mr. Ménard was also a grand officier (the highest level) of l’Ordre national du Québec, had seven honorary doctorates and was chancellor of Concordia University.

Mr. Ménard leaves his wife, Marie-José Ratelle; children, Louis-Simon and Anne-Valérie; grandsons, Louis-Gabriel and Thomas; sisters, Louise and Denise; and extended family.

“I could see that he was a leader,” Mr. Bouchard said.

Mr. Ménard played an essential role at the utility, particularly when the devastating ice storm hit in January, 1998. While at the same time a senior executive at the Bank of Montreal, he stepped out from behind his desk to visit areas where the heavy ice had crushed giant hydro towers.

Effortlessly fluent in French and English, he gave on-air interviews about the crisis and spoke to workers in the field, inspiring them as they worked to restore power.

“You could have seen Jacques 24 hours a day on TV with reporters and on the streets and I don’t know how he was able to duplicate himself but he was still doing his job as a merchant banker and chair of Hydro-Québec. That was Jacques,” said his friend and colleague Claude Gagnon, who is now president of the Bank of Montreal’s Quebec operations.

“His humanity and presence on the ground with employees were praised during the 1998 ice storm,” said a tribute from Hydro-Québec following his death.


About the Author

About the Author: Fred has had a full career as a CBC TV host and reporter. He has written countless articles for many renowned publications such as The Economist, The Globe and Mail, BusinessWeek and many more, as well as more than 2000 obituaries. He is also a successfully published author and ghostwriter. His current projects include writing and co-authoring books, as well as lending his talents as a speaker and interviewer for webcasts. .


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