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Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard takes the stage after winning the provincial election Monday April 7, 2014 in St-Felicien, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard takes the stage after winning the provincial election Monday April 7, 2014 in St-Felicien, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Meet Philippe Couillard, the former neurosurgeon who is Quebec’s new premier Add to ...

Now premier-designate of Quebec, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard was the only rookie among the main party leaders when the election campaign began. With time, it became easier to forget that he only took over the Liberals one year ago.

Coming from a line of Couillard physicians, the 56-year-old neurosurgeon applied a medical-school level of rigour to learning how to be a better politician. The stump speech he committed to memory was cut from a repetitive 45 minutes to a punchy 17. As PQ campaign troubles mounted, he learned to stick to his script as much as possible.

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Mr. Couillard, however, is still no Jean Charest when it comes to the art of politics. He occasionally talks down to the crowd, explaining to them what he described as “difficult words” like infrastructure and Bloomberg News. His excursions in hand-shaking and baby-kissing look more like a doctor on rounds than a man bathing in the love of his people.

On Monday night, however, his words resonated. “The time of inflicting wounds is over,” he said. “We are all Quebeckers. We should focus on what brings us together. Division is over. Reconciliation begins.”

While Mr. Couillard stayed on safe territory as he built a lead in polls, his campaign was not completely risk-free. His defence of bilingualism and federalism was more fervent than that of any political leader in provincial politics in decades.

On bilingualism, Mr. Couillard seemed to tap into a sentiment that has often gone ignored in Quebec. In stop after stop in French-speaking Quebec – Thetford Mines, Victoriaville, Sept-Îles – his loudest applause lines often came when he would declare he wanted every Grade 6 student to be taught English.

The worst moment of his campaign, he admitted, was during the second debate when he said English was indispensable for factory-floor workers who might come into contact with English-speaking clients.

Francophones fought for decades for the right to work at such jobs in French. He said on the final day of campaigning that he meant to talk about customer service jobs that are often bilingual posts in Quebec. Such a lapse would have seriously harmed other leaders, such as Mr. Charest. Mr. Couillard, a former hockey player, just skated away.

Follow me on Twitter: @perreaux

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