Couillard promises 'most transparent government' in Quebec history
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, April 8, 2014 8:42AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 8, 2014 5:10PM EDT
Philippe Couillard is promising Quebecers “the most transparent government they have ever had,” a day after his Liberal party turfed the Parti Quebecois from power.
Couillard made the vow Tuesday afternoon in a brief address followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters. Couillard also promised that although voters gave him a majority mandate during Monday night’s election, he will work with the opposition parties for the good of the province.
But his main vow, he said, was that his tenure as premier would be marked by “transparency and integrity.”
“My intent is to give Quebecers the most transparent government they have ever had,” Couillard said.
On the issue of integrity, he said, “there will not be any compromises on my part.”
Couillard noted, for example, that federal parties are “further ahead” on proactive disclosure of expenses.
Couillard spent considerable time answering reporters’ questions Tuesday, a day after his Liberals ousted the PQ by winning 70 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats.The PQ was reduced to 30 seats, while the CAQ won 22 and Quebec solidaire won three.
Couillard announced that the Liberal caucus will meet on Wednesday at 2 p.m. He also said that former Liberal premier Daniel Johnson will chair his transition committee.
He would not offer a specific timeline for when he would name his cabinet. However, he did say that once his government is up and running, he would ask the province’s auditor general to do a full accounting of Quebec’s books.
In the meantime, Couillard said he is prepared to begin efforts to “kick-start the economy” that don’t require him to table a budget, including new tax credits and carrying on with previously announced infrastructure projects.
The premier-elect said that his mandate “does not mean that we will behave in an arrogant way…we want to work with the opposition.”
He noted that after a bruising campaign that focused on talk of a sovereignty referendum, all parties should “work together to define and maintain a new way of talking, and a new political behaviour.”
Liberals won ‘without too much effort’
Couillard’s plea for political civility came after Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault took shots at the Liberal victory during a morning news conference.
Legault said the threat of another sovereignty referendum allowed the Liberals to win Monday’s election “without too much effort,” and warned that the ongoing nationalist-federalist debate is hampering the province’s economic growth.
Legault said the 33-day race was a campaign about a referendum, which he called “sad,” before adding “but that’s the reality.”
The ever-present sovereignty debate in Quebec politics allowed the Liberals to “almost automatically take office” without making major policy proposals, he said.
“This imaginary country is harming the real country in many ways, and I think we need to be aware of that and reflect on that.”
PQ Leader Pauline Marois kicked off the campaign by focusing on her party’s proposed values charter, which would ban public servants from wearing overt religious symbols. However, when star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau declared he was getting into politics to fight for an independent Quebec, the campaign became about another referendum. Polls put support for sovereignty in the province at about 30 per cent.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau noted Tuesday that there are Quebecers who will remain committed to the sovereigntist cause despite the election results. But voters indicated that they have more pressing priorities, he said.
“It’s clear that Quebecers wanted a stronger economy and not a third referendum and not identity-based fights,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill. “And as I’ve said often, Canada can now see that Quebecers have the same preoccupations that they have, which is a stronger economy, stability and prosperity that is shared.”
The referendum talk led to the PQ’s worst election showing in decades. But the federalist-sovereigntist debate is also hampering Quebec’s ability to “modernize” its economy and keep pace with economic growth in other parts of Canada, Legault said.
“We need to change the culture and the management approach with respect to our public systems, and I think we’ll see in the coming months and years whether the Liberals have the courage to actually do that,” he said.
Drawing investment to the province should be Couillard’s top priority, Legault said.
In the meantime, Legault said he will spend the next four years building “a credible and constructive alternative to the Liberal Party.”
While Quebecers aren’t interested in separating from Canada, “the vast majority of Quebecers are nationalists, and would like to see a government in place that defends the French language, that defends our identity, that defends Quebec first and foremost. And that is precisely what the CAQ is proposing,” Legault said.
What becomes of the values charter?
With the PQ pushed out of power and, with it, any talk of a referendum for at least four years, one question is what will happen to the proposed Charter of Values.
The legislation, Bill C-60, was aimed at addressing the issue of reasonable accommodation of religious minorities.
The proposal was met with outrage by many religious freedom advocates both in and out of the province. But some polls suggested a slim majority of Quebecers supported the legislation. A CROP poll for La Presse issued in early March found 51 per cent of respondents were in favour of the Charter, including a strong majority of francophones.
The charter was undergoing public hearings when Marois called the election.
Ahead of the vote, Couillard said that he opposed the ban on religious symbols for public sector workers. He also promised that, if elected, he would release any legal advice the Parti Québécois received on the proposition.
Couillard also vowed during the election to reintroduce measures to handle the reasonable accommodation debate.
On Tuesday, Couillard said he would address the issues raised by the charter “early in my government,” because it was a proposal that divided Quebecers and must be addressed quickly.
He vowed to find elements in the proposal “on which we agree,” such as the neutrality of the state and protection of religious rights.
“We will have a specific bill and we will bring it because we need to close that file,” Couillard said.
The Quebec Bar Association said the proposed charter would be unconstitutional, but Marois said she had sought legal advice saying the charter would be legal. She refused, however, to reveal those opinions.
Quebec's Human Rights Commission said the Charter of Values would create more problems than it would solve, noting that the number of "reasonable accommodation" complaints in Quebec is low. The commission said the values charter would likely create confusion and flood the courts and tribunals with complaints.
Luciano Del Negro, the vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Quebec, says he's not convinced the issue of reasonable accommodation was ever a key concern for most Quebecers in this election.
"Let's be clear, this charter had nothing to do with reality. It was concocted for the simple purpose of seeking political power… it was a false solution to an inexistent problem and the people of Quebec ultimately saw through this," he told CTV's Canada AM.
Trudeau said Tuesday that Quebecers rejected the “politics of division” embodied by the charter, and predicted that it will not be a priority for the incoming Liberal government.
“It’s part of what Quebecers decided last night by saying that it’s unacceptable that someone can be forced to pick between his or her religion and his or her job,” Trudeau said. “And Quebecers, we are open people, tolerant people, compassionate people, and for Quebecers it would be unacceptable to force such a choice on someone.”