Canadian finance executive seeks seat in French parliament

Canadian businessman Roland Lescure was so eager to get involved in France’s presidential election that he stepped down last month as chief investment officer of the giant pension fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec to work on Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in Montreal. Now that Mr. Macron has won, Mr. Lescure is going even further and he’s been nominated as a candidate in next month’s parliamentary elections as part of Mr. Macron’s team.

Mr. Lescure is running in one of the 11 constituencies France has set aside in its 577-seat National Assembly to represent the 1.3 million citizens living abroad. His riding is known as the 1re Circonscription, or first constituency, and it consists of Canada and the United States, and has about 200,000 voters. He was one of 428 candidates unveiled on Thursday by Mr. Macron’s organization, called La République En Marche! (REM). The remainder will be announced in the next few days.

Like Mr. Macron, Mr. Lescure is a political novice and comes from the world of finance. He also hopes to join the transformation in French politics that has seen voters move away from traditional politicians and parties.

“It’s exciting but also very, very intense,” Mr. Lescure said from Paris where he filed his papers to become an official candidate. He won’t have long to campaign. France holds two rounds of voting in parliamentary elections, with the top two candidates in the first round facing off against each other in the second round. The first round of voting for the overseas ridings is on June 7, one week before the rest of the country. The second round is on June 17, when everyone else votes as well.

“We basically have 2 1/2 weeks to go around North America and raise the profile of my candidacy,” said Mr. Lescure, 50, who was born in Paris and holds French and Canadian citizenship. “The canvassing is going to be long distance.” He plans to launch his campaign in New York on Monday and travel around both countries, but most of his team will be based in Montreal.

The parliamentary elections are crucial for Mr. Macron, who won 66 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff against Marine Le Pen of the National Front. Without a majority in parliament, he will be unable to pursue his agenda. And there are real questions about whether he can win enough seats. He launched En Marche! barely a year ago and the organization, renamed this week as La République En Marche! (REM), has a scant infrastructure and no political roots in any of the parliamentary ridings.

Mr. Macron, 39, has said he wants to transform French politics and REM has deliberately nominated candidates with little political experience, drawing from social groups, students, business people, pensioners and academics. Candidates were selected by a committee which considered 19,000 applicants. The youngest is 24-years-old, the oldest is 72 and half of all the nominees are women.

There were already indications on Thursday that the campaign’s organization is shaky. After releasing the list of nominees with great fanfare, the campaign had to quickly issue a second version of the list a few hours later to correct several mistakes, including the spelling of Mr. Lescure’s first name.

“Yes, it’s sometimes a bit disorganized, sometimes a bit improvised and that’s also what renewal is about,” Mr. Lescure said.

He added that he applied to be a candidate in January, sending off a résumé and letter of application. “It was definitely like applying for a job,” he said. He got the word two days ago that he had been picked and he has assembled a group of 15 campaign workers in Montreal.

Mr. Lescure will be up against incumbent Frédéric Lefebvre of the centre-right Republican Party. He is a French lawyer who founded a non-profit group in the United States that works with French nationals in North America. The biggest challenge for both of them will be getting people to vote. Turnout in the riding was just 20 per cent in the last parliamentary elections and only 40 per cent in Sunday’s presidential election.

Even if he doesn’t win, Mr. Lescure is determined to play a role in Mr. Macron’s movement. He was drawn to the candidate last year largely because of Mr. Macron’s strong commitment to the European Union. “I’m a true European. I think France can only be strong in a stronger Europe,” Mr. Lescure said, adding that he spent the first part of his career working in the French Finance Ministry helping to lay the groundwork for the introduction of the euro.

And as an economist and long-time investment manager, both in France and Canada, Mr. Lescure also backs Mr. Macron’s plans to reform France’s rigid labour market. “France has what we call an insider and outsider model. If you have a job in France you’re okay but if you don’t have a job it’s very hard to get one,” he said. Mr. Macron “wants a complete overhaul of labour laws.”

For now, though, he’s concentrating on his new role as a politician and hoping to reach as many French voters in Canada and the United States as possible over the next couple of weeks.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said.

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