Quebec premier-designate Couillard promises integrity and transparency
QUEBEC — A day after guiding his Liberals to a majority government, Philippe Couillard said he intends to give Quebecers the most transparent government they’ve ever had.
The premier-designate said the political class is clearly under the microscope because of the mudslinging that dominated the election campaign and alienated many Quebecers.
“The fact we obtained a majority government doesn’t mean we will behave arrogantly or won’t want to talk with the opposition parties on issues that affect all Quebecers,” Couillard said Tuesday.
He said he will divulge information such as expense accounts and the ongoing progress of infrastructure projects.
“On integrity, I’ll repeat it: there will be no compromise,” he insisted.
The Liberals won 70 out of 125 seats in the election, outstripping the Parti Quebecois’s 30, the Coalition party’s 22 and Quebec solidaire’s three.
Couillard said former Liberal premier Daniel Johnson will oversee the transition period as he takes over from the PQ’s Pauline Marois.
After losing the election and her own seat, Marois announced Monday night she was quitting politics.
The incoming premier said he will likely form his government in about two weeks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Coalition Leader Francois Legault said the Liberals won the election because of the omnipresent threat of a sovereignty referendum.
Couillard’s Liberals stormed to victory after he focused their campaign on the danger of another referendum in the event of a majority PQ government.
Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister who now heads an anti-referendum party, said he believes the independence issue was the catalyst behind the Liberals’ victory.
“The omnipresence of a referendum or sovereignty allows the Liberals to win elections without too much effort,” he told a news conference in Montreal.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for one political party to be able, almost automatically, to take power without really proposing anything.”
Legault, a co-founder of the Air Transat airline, added that Couillard needs to work on bridging the gap in terms of wealth between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
“It’s a question of pride,” said Legault, who insisted he will be around for the next four years and still hopes to become premier.
“I want to build a credible, responsible and constructive alternative to the Liberals in every region of Quebec before the next election in October 2018.”
Marois’s announcement triggered immediate speculation as to who will eventually succeed her, with much of the attention turning to media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau, who won his seat in Saint-Jerome.
The PQ’s loss has been blamed on its cornerstone quest for Quebec independence, an idea a majority of Quebecers oppose.
Legault, a champion of the sovereignty movement until he left the PQ a few years ago, said his old party will be forced to ponder its fundamental belief, much like he did.
“I think these people will have to go through the same reflection I did in 2009,” he said.
“At a certain moment we can no longer move against the will of the majority of Quebecers. Quebecers don’t want a referendum ... I didn’t find a solution.
“If the PQ continues to propose — or not exclude — a referendum they will be in trouble. If they stop proposing a referendum, they will be in trouble.”
Couillard’s majority win Monday will give the PQ several years to rebuild.
The former Charest health minister sent the PQ to one of its worst electoral defeats in a nasty campaign that voters complained didn’t focus enough on bread-and-butter issues, like jobs and health care.
Marois called the election on March 5, hoping to win a majority based on a campaign of identity politics anchored in its controversial secularism charter, which would have banned public-sector workers from wearing such religious garb as kippas and hijabs.
But Peladeau’s campaign launch just a few days later derailed the majority scenario when he delivered an enthusiastic, fist-pumping endorsement of an independent Quebec.
The PQ never recovered even though Marois insisted over and over there would be no referendum until Quebecers wanted one.
In terms of popular support Monday, the Liberals pulled in 41 per cent, a dramatic climb from 31 per cent in 2012. And the PQ finished the night with about 25 per cent, just two percentage points more than the Coalition.
Marois’s defeat follows the crushing of the Bloc Quebecois in the 2011 federal election when it was reduced to four seats. It is stunningly similar to one that brought her to the PQ’s top job after Andre Boisclair suffered one of the worst electoral thrashings in the PQ’s history in 2007.
Marois won fewer than the 36 ridings he claimed.
When Marois called the election, the PQ had 54 seats, the Liberals 49, the Coalition 18 and Quebec solidaire two. There were two Independents.
Voter turnout on Monday was 71.5 per cent, compared with 74.6 per cent in 2012.