Hanging on coat racks in the corner of Vic Fedeli’s office are dozens of yellow ties. They are part of the Ontario politician’s signature look, which the former advertising man came up with 16 years ago during his successful run for mayor of North Bay. Now they’re key to Mr. Fedeli’s brand, so much so that he recently wore one during a photo op while getting a flu shot – without his shirt on.
He was wearing a yellow tie when he delivered the Progressive Conservative government’s first budget, which caused a torrent of backlash over cuts to municipalities, environmental initiatives and legal aid. Following the highly criticized roll out, Mr. Fedeli was demoted as Finance Minister by Premier Doug Ford in last June’s cabinet shuffle.
The brand took a bit of a hit, but Mr. Fedeli hasn’t give up on politics – or the ties that go with it. Almost six months after the shuffle, Mr. Fedeli said he’s found peace with his role as Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.
“Politics is a team sport. And sometimes the coach adjusts the lineup,” Mr. Fedeli said during a recent interview in his Toronto office. “I’m quite happy with the role that I have.”
That role will take Mr. Fedeli, the son of entrepreneurs who started his own an ad agency, on trade missions around the world. Most recently, he was in India, where he hoped to harness an economic relationship that he said has not benefited Canada.
The mission yielded a new manufacturing facility in Kitchener, Ont., and a promise to explore partnerships with India on trillion-dollar infrastructure projects in that country. When he returned from South Korea and Japan last month, Mr. Fedeli announced a $20-million global health-care venture fund, as well as a memorandum of understanding with Korean importers, with that country taking in $535-billion a year in goods. In contrast, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne on a similar trip announced 28 agreements valued at $240-million. (“The Liberals made a lot of announceables, very few deliverables," he counters.)
Mr. Fedeli’s goals for his portfolio are amorphous, but he acknowledges “we’ve got work to do.”
It was Mr. Ford himself, he said, who told him that he needed Mr. Fedeli in the job.
“The Premier said to me, ‘Buddy’ – well, you know how he talks – ‘you’re my best sales guy, I need you out there,'" Mr. Fedeli said, adding that he visited more than 100 countries before entering provincial politics in 2011. After selling his business at 35, Mr. Fedeli travelled the globe for a decade.
“He knew very quickly that that would not be a big shift in my life, that I’ve done business all around the world in so many countries, and that it was just the right fit.”
Mr. Fedeli gained a high profile when he was appointed by the PC caucus as interim leader in January, 2018, after Patrick Brown stepped down. (Mr. Fedeli is now suing Mr. Brown for defamation over allegations of sexual harassment in Mr. Brown’s memoir, which Mr. Fedeli has denied. No complainant has come forward.) Mr. Fedeli was then handed one of the most prominent jobs in government as Finance Minister.
The government later laid the blame for the budget on communications, not policies, leading some Fedeli loyalists to privately question whether he was being unfairly targeted. Mr. Fedeli was replaced by Rod Phillips, who has taken a more low-key approach to the role, and the government has backed away from some of its most controversial cuts.
Looking back on the first year, Mr. Fedeli said the most important thing is that the PC caucus listened to its critics. Mr. Fedeli defends his government’s business-friendly moves, such as cancelling the cap-and-trade system aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions. “The fact that we listened, I think, is appreciated by the people of Ontario, certainly by the business community," he said.
Although Mr. Fedeli changed jobs, he did not switch seats in the legislature. He remains in the same chair, beside Mr. Ford, a spot normally reserved for the Finance Minister.
“I don’t want to let the Premier down," he said.
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