Mark Bruneau—raw

Par Dan Delmar le 21 août 2008

It is apparent from the start that Mark Bruneau, who is seeking the Liberal party nomination in the south-west Jeanne-Le Ber riding, is different. And not the kind of “different” that is bandied about by most politicians who want to set themselves apart from so many of their dull and mediocre colleagues. Bruneau, 47, is an eccentric, in-your-face, heavy-set multi-millionaire with razor-sharp wit and, he says, a desire to spend the next quarter-century serving his country. In short, he breaks the mold.

“My entry into politics is not about opportunism,” he said. “The access I had to education and opportunities are marks of good, Liberal policy.”

A B.Comm from the University   of Ottawa, an MBA from Harvard, Bruneau is an entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry, having founded (and sold) Adventis, a Boston-based consultancy, and is also a former vice-president              in charge of strategy at BCE.           His only clear link to Jeanne-Le Ber —the riding Liza Frulla lost to the Bloc Québecois two years ago—    is his involvement with the construction of the new Bell Campus on Nun’s Island.

Apart from the Island, most of the riding is working-class and working-poor. Verdun, Saint-Henri, Little Burgundy, and Pointe-Saint-Charles: not exactly neighbourhoods whose residents could easily relate to a man who lives in a three-storey Old Port penthouse condo. A penthouse sumptuous enough to have cost a small fortune yet which he unabashedly revealed to The Métropolitain in the midst of a nomination campaign.

It’s all there, from the backlit colour-shifting walls to the ma-hogany library stocked with rare first editions to the gigantic terrace which takes up much of the building’s    roof. “I’m just a poor kid from Hawkesbury,” Bruneau said. “I get off on this.”

Addressing concerns that his arrival in Jeanne-Le Ber is strictly political expedient and that his wealth alone may put distance between himself and potential constituents, he was blunt: “J’étais plus pauvre que toi, pendant plus longtemps, et je m'en suis sorti!”

Growing up poor in a small Ontario town along the Quebec border gave Bruneau a sense of humility. And some deep personal memories. He tears up when speaking of his late mother whose sacrifices allowed him to pursue higher education.

“If I hadn’t had some success in life, my mom would have been in line for $3 a day meals,” he said.

That may explain his involvement with Resto Plateau, a community kitchen and job-training centre where he is the honorary president. He said he isn’t afraid to twist a few corporate arms to make sure funds are made available to causes close to his heart.

Bruneau is certainly good with money. As the Finance chair for the party’s Quebec wing, he is charged with replenishing Liberal coffers ahead of a possible autumn election, at a time when donations are at one of their lowest levels ever.

“We’re involving more young people,” Bruneau said. “Not the shrimp cocktail crowd at 500 bucks a pop, but the beer/terrasse crowd at $20 a pop.”

He added that he will stick strictly to the party’s finances and, as far as leader Stéphane Dion’s financial problems are concerned, he “won’t be touching the personal debts of anyone.” Varying reports put Dion in the red to the tune of $250,000; perhaps as much as $690,000 following the 2006 Liberal leadership race.

With regards to his field of expertise, Bruneau said he sympathizes with Canadian cell phone subscribers who pay some of the highest rates on earth and is in favour of telecommunication industry deregulation. He supports an American-style banking system where financial institutions would be freer to merge and compete on a global scale, with added competitive openness for foreign banks to operate in Canada. He’s very enthusiastic about “new economy” jobs and helping out small and medium-sized businesses. “We over-tax the knowledge sector of our economy and we under-tax the old resource sector,” said Bruneau, who spent most of his professional life, 18 years, in Boston. “We attract minds, students and redistribute. We don’t retain. We need to keep them here and put them to work.”

From the aggressive pro-globalization capitalist to the sentimental philanthropist, from the metrosexual gadget-lover to the teary-eyed orphan, Bruneau is all about contrasts. His 6-year-old son, an adopted Russian Jew, splits his time between Bruneau's bachelor pad and his ex-partner's home in

Vermont. His son's drawings are displayed proudly on the refridgerator, meters away from chic sculptures.  The clashing of lifestyles also carries over to his views on Liberal policy. “I believe in self-reliance and in helping others,” reads a line from his website biography. Is the working-class rhetoric sincere, making him an intensely complex character, or is it a routine to get elected? Either way, he yells, swears and bangs his fists on the table to drive home his point:

“Embauchez quelqu’un qui va travailler pour vous,” is Bruneau’s message to the residents of Jeanne-Le Ber. “Je me presente pour être ton employé. Embauchez comme du monde. I’m not smarter than many people, but god-damn I work hard. I got my big condo…”

“I don’t need this job,” Bruneau emphasizes, “ I want this job.”

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