Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard suffered a devastating defeat in Monday’s provincial election at the hands of the Coalition Avenir Québec, a party that embodied the collective desire for change so many Quebec voters were eager to embrace.
Mr. Couillard fully acknowledged his responsibility for the defeat of his government and said he will soon announce his decision about the leadership of the Liberal Party.
“I will undertake a reflection on my personal future. In order to avoid any instability that may result from this, my reflection will be short,” Mr. Couillard told a small group of supporters gathered at a convention centre in Saint-Félicien, in the heart of the riding of Roberval in the Lac-Saint-Jean region.
In congratulating CAQ Leader François Legault for his “clear and unambiguous” victory, the Liberal Leader said he was proud of what his government had accomplished.
“In politics, you have to learn how to taste the joy of victory and accept defeat because they are the two sides of democracy," Mr. Couillard said in conceding to Mr. Legault. "I am not bitter and I ask you not to be. I am proud and you should be also.”
Yet, never in recent history have the Liberals been so soundly defeated. The party obtained roughly 25 per cent of the popular vote, its lowest score in decades. And while it managed to elect a little more than 30 candidates, including Mr. Couillard, Liberal strongholds in majority francophone ridings throughout Quebec were swept away by the CAQ.
Traditional Liberal ridings in the Outaouais region, the Eastern Townships and the Montreal region collapsed in the CAQ landslide. However, several ridings with a strong contingent of anglophone voters remained loyal to the party.
Mr. Couillard reiterated in his speech how the province had generated strong growth and created numerous jobs. His government’s efforts, however, failed to erase the anger created by unpopular budgetary measures in health and education.
“Together we did what we had to do,” he insisted. “We have a Quebec that we can be proud of. I end my mandate with my head held high. Believe me, I leave Quebec a better place than what it was when I took over in 2014. I am proud of what we accomplished.”
Mr. Couillard remained stoic throughout his remarks, as his wife, Suzanne Pilote, stood by him. The Liberal Leader became more emotional when he talked of the need for Quebec to remain an open and inclusive society. “You are like us, first-class Quebeckers,” Mr. Couillard said, speaking in English to the anglophone community. “Stay with us. Build our Quebec with all Quebeckers. Yes, French is our official language. English is not a foreign language in Quebec.”
The Liberals may soon have to rethink their course of action as they look for new contenders to lead the party through the next four years in opposition. That will unfold when Mr. Couillard announces his plans for the future in the coming days.