Philip Authier, Montreal Gazette, October 4, 2018
Premier Philippe Couillard made a strong and emotional plea for minority rights Thursday as he announced he was quitting politics.
Three days after the Liberal’s stunning electoral defeat, Couillard confirmed he is stepping down as premier, the leader of his party and as the MNA for the riding of Roberval, where he was re-elected Monday.
Couillard fought back tears in his resignation speech when he spoke about the future. His wife, Suzanne Pilote, put her arm around him when he said “as the song goes, it’s time to think a bit about us.”
On his way to the podium, and when he walked away, a clutch of supporters cheered and applauded.
“Voters have clearly expressed a desire for change,” Couillard said as he stood in front of six Quebec flags in the main lobby of the National Assembly. “I assume the consequences.
“After having poured all of my energy into serving Quebec, remaining in politics, regardless of the title or function, is beyond what I am humanly capable of doing. I ask Quebecers for their understanding and to allow me take my leave in peace.
“In all, I will have devoted 10 years of my life to public service. It will always be for me a source of great pride. I am leaving Quebec in much better shape than I found it in 2014.”
And Couillard returned repeatedly to the issue of integrating new arrivals.
With the incoming Coalition Avenir Québec announcing Monday its intention to oblige state employees in positions of authority to refrain from wearing religious symbols, he used his speech to remind his successor of the enormous responsibility of “the majority” toward minorities.
He did so without naming CAQ Leader François Legault, the incoming premier.
Couillard said social cohesion and being an inclusive society become even more important in the context of declining demographics.
“New arrivals who will take many of the available jobs in Quebec do not constitute a threat for our distinct character in North America,” Couillard said. “On the contrary. Each is part of our growth.
“On this issue, each word, each action counts in one way or another. Our National Assembly, like all parliaments, has a duty to protect their rights rather than restrict them if it wants to conserve its legitimacy.
“In fact, it’s one of its main duties. The majority does not have unlimited rights and those it exerts should compensate those of the minority.
“It’s a fundamental democratic principle. Quebec must remain a welcoming and inclusive society where all are invited to the table — a place where we judge humans for what they have in their heads, not on their heads, and for what they bring us in their hearts.”
He repeated that a proud moment of his political career was when he stepped up support for the English-speaking community by creating the secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.
“I want you to know that I did not do this for short-term electoral reasons but because of a profound belief in a truly inclusive Quebec,” he said.
Couillard took no questions and gave no indications of his future plans. A brain surgeon, Couillard cannot resume work as a doctor because his certification has lapsed. He will likely land in the private sector.
Legault was among the first to react, praising Couillard for his contribution to public life.
In Montreal for a meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked Couiilard for his years of service. He described Couillard as a friend.
“He is someone who always took his responsibilities very seriously,” Trudeau said. “We worked very well together. I developed a friendship with him. I have lots of respect for anyone who gets involved in politics. As you know, I intend to work positively with the new premier, François Legault.”
The former Parti Québécois leader, Jean-François Lisée, who also quit in the wake of the election, also sent good wished to Couillard in a tweet.
In the election, the Coalition Avenir Québec bagged 74 seats while the Liberals fell from 68 to 32.
The Parti Québécois won nine and Québec solidaire 10.
In his election night speech, Couillard said as leader he assumed responsibility for the loss but would take a few days to reflect on his future.
Beaten and elected Liberal candidates are expected to meet later Thursday at a Quebec City hotel to go over what happened and to plan the road ahead.
So far, four Liberals have expressed an interest in the job of Liberal interim leader: Pierre Arcand, Christine Saint-Pierre, Gaétan Barrette and Marc Tanguay.