Philippe Couillard’s Liberals to form new government in Quebec

·Politics Reporter
Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard takes the stage with his wife Suzanne Pilote at his rally headquarters after his in St. Felicien, Quebec, April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

Philippe Couillard's Liberals have won a majority government in the province of Quebec.

As of 12:00 a.m (EST), Liberal candidates were leading or elected in 70 ridings, compared to the Parti Quebecois in 30, the Coalition Avenir Quebec in 22 and the Quebec Solidaire in three.

During his victory speech, Couillard struck a hopeful tone.

"Tonight Quebec has won. All of Quebec has won by giving itself a stable government, he said.

"Quebec now has a priority of economy and employment. Quebec has chosen union and openness.

"My wish is that we find ourselves again. From everywhere in Quebec...we are all Quebecers."

While Couillard, CAQ leader Fracois Legault and Quebec Solidaire leader Françoise David each won their respective seats, Marois lost hers in Charlevoix-Cote-de-Beaupre to Liberal Caroline Simard.

During her concession speech, she also announced her resignation as PQ leader.

"Quebecers have spoken and we must respect this result," she said.

"This evening, you'll understand that under the circumstances I will be leaving my post."

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

One month ago, Marois met with her province's Lieutenant-Governor to dissolve the National Assembly in an effort to turn her minority government into a majority.

But after a campaign full of missteps and unfocused messaging, which included a lot of talk about a referendum that Quebecers weren't interested in, PQ support plummeted in the opinion polls and now they're on the outside looking in.

[ Related: Five missteps of Pauline Marois during the Quebec election campaign ]

Reaction to the results, from across the country, began pouring in late Monday evening.

"Today, Quebecers voted for a better economy, instead of a third referendum, by electing Philippe Couillard as their new Premier and giving the Quebec Liberal Party a strong mandate to address the real issues in the province," federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said in a statement.

"As I have said since last summer, I had the utmost confidence that Quebec voters would reject the negative, divisive politics of Mme. Marois’ proposed plan. I am proud that my fellow Quebecers have chosen unity and acceptance as we move forward together."

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair congratulated his former cabinet colleague.

"The NDP has taken note of the people’s desire to end the old quarrels, and the new Premier can count on us to promote Quebec’s interests in Ottawa, as part of our effort to build a more just and prosperous Canada for all," he said in a statement.

" Having sat alongside Mr. Couillard in cabinet, I can attest to his competence and his commitment to Quebec and its institutions."

And Prime Minister Harper said that the results "clearly demonstrate that Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation."

"On behalf of our Government, I would like to convey my sincerest congratulations to Philippe Couillard on his election victory," Harper said in a statement.

"We look forward to working with the new Government of Quebec on those priorities."

So, who is this Philippe Couillard, that Canada's leaders are excited about working with?

More importantly, what can Quebecers expect from him?

Path to political office:

Born in 1957 in Montreal, Couillard went on to the Université de Montréal where he earned a medical degree and certification in neurosurgery.

In the 1980's and 1990's he served as a department head at two Quebec hospitals and had stint at a facility in Saudi Arabia.

He left the medical profession in 2003 to run for a seat in the National Assembly, in the Liberal stronghold of Mount Royal. He won handily, earning himself a spot in Jean Charest's cabinet as the Minister of Health.

Couillard left politics in 2008, but returned in 2012 to run for the Liberal leadership vacated by Charest.

On March 17, 2013, Couillard, the father of five, became the party's 19th leader winning the race on the first ballot.

[ Related: PQ must face reality its independence dream is politically toxic ]

What to expect:

Couillard campaigned with a fiscal conservative voice promising to cut spending by $1.3 billion over two years and splitting any short-term surplus monies between tax cuts and paying off the province's massive debt.

The party platform did, however, include new investments in the north, more money for health care and education and more taxing powers for cities to raise money to tackle their infrastructure woes.

With regard to the never-dying issue of Quebec identity, Couillard says that he intends to develop guidelines on religious accommodation, but doesn't want to go as far as the PQ Values Charter which would have banned all public employees from wearing religious symbols in public institutions.

Finally, if Quebecers are tired of constitution talk, they might not get a respite with Couillard as premier.

As explained by the Canadian Press, Couillard "has emerged as one of the most openly federalist Quebec politicians in generations, touting former prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier as an inspiration for his own party and extolling Canada as a financial powerhouse that benefits its citizens."

To that end, he wants Quebec included in the Canadian constitution — musing that he'd like Quebec to sign by 2017 which marks 150 years since Canada's Confederation.

Challenges ahead:

The province of Quebec — and now Couillard as leader — faces a laundry list of challenges, not the least of which include a massive deficit problem, growing infrastructure woes, and more student unrest due to rising tuition rates.

Couillard will also have to stick-handle his party though the landmines strewn from the Charbonneau commission — the public commission set-up to investigate corruption in Quebec's construction industry.

Because of a campaign blackout, the commission has been focused on municipalities but, starting tomorrow, will shift its review to provincial party finances.

According to the Toronto Star's Chantal Hebert, both the Liberals and PQ "reportedly have cause to brace for bad news."

(Photo courtesy CBC)

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