The brickbats are flying in a clash between the companies of two of Quebec’s most prominent families – the Desmarais and the Beaudoin-Bombardiers – over a project to build a cement plant in the economically hard-hit Gaspé region.
Bombardier Inc.’s Beaudoin-Bombardier family owns a controlling stake in McInnis Cement, a Quebec company that is in talks with the provincial government over financial backing for its proposed $1-billion cement plant in Port-Daniel-Gascons, Que.
But rival Lafarge SA of Paris – which is 21 per cent indirectly owned by the Desmarais clan through Geneva-based Pargesa Holding SA – is fighting any government assistance to the project, arguing that it would constitute unfair competition and result in an overflow of cement in an already saturated domestic market.
Lafarge is an important cement producer in Quebec along with Colacem Canada, Holcim and Ciment Québec. Lafarge, Holcim and Ciment Québec are multinationals.
In September, Lafarge expressed its concern, in a letter to Premier Pauline Marois, about the possibility of financial assistance to McInnis.
In the latest salvo, McInnis issued a news release Wednesday slamming Lafarge’s recent hiring of a lobbyist, at a cost of up to $50,000, to try to dissuade the current Parti Québécois government and its investment arm, Investissement Québec, from providing financial help to McInnis.
McInnis claimed that the lobbyist, François Crête, who is listed in the provincial lobbyists’ register, is using inaccurate information to make the case against the project.
Playing up the fact it is fully owned by “Quebec interests,” McInnis said it “vigorously denounces the actions of certain foreign multinationals in the cement industry that are deliberately trying to get in the way of the realization of construction of the Port-Daniel–Gascons cement works.”
“We know perfectly well that the information being conveyed by Lafarge is inexact and in no way reflects our project,” McInnis Cement president Christian Gagnon said in the news release.
The Port-Daniel–Gascons project would not be in competition with the existing cement works in the province, as the majority of its production is to be exported to the United States, McInnis said.
“I cannot refrain from denouncing such tactics. It is clear that the multinationals are in a panic because they know very well that our ultra-modern, environmentally exemplary cement works will produce a very high-quality cement that will compete with them mainly at their dilapidated plants in the United States,” Mr. Gagnon said.
Lafarge on Wednesday defended the hiring of the lobbyist. “Advocacy with government officials is a legitimate business practice and we welcome the opportunity to provide additional factual information so that elected officials can make the best public policy decision in the interest of Quebec taxpayers, which include our more than 500 employees … across the province,” Lafarge Canada Inc. spokesman Regan Watts said in an e-mail.
“We continue to believe that financial support from the government for the McInnis project would create an unlevel playing field among cement producers by giving McInnis an unfair financial advantage,” he said.
Mr. Watts said the issue is of concern to the entire industry in Quebec: “This issue is not a dispute between two families and their business interests, it’s a dispute between cement producers and a potential new entrant seeking an unfair financial advantage from the government of Quebec.”
Investissement Québec spokeswoman Chantal Corbeil said in an interview Wednesday that talks with McInnis continue.
Asked about Lafarge’s hiring of a lobbyist to try to prevent any government aid, Ms. Corbeil said “That’s not for us to comment on. It’s a political matter.”