Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard lost a key minister who must take time off to be treated for a serious illness.
Pierre Moreau, who held the Education and Municipal Affairs portfolios in Mr. Couillard's Liberal government, received a tentative diagnosis of cancer on Monday that is expected to be confirmed by biopsy in the coming days.
Mr. Moreau, who had appeared pale and thin in recent weeks, missed the previous cabinet swearing-in on Jan. 28, when he apparently felt faint. He spent several days in the hospital before a brief return.
In a measure of how important Mr. Moreau is to the government, four ministers had to be sworn in Monday evening to cover for Mr. Moreau – who retained a symbolic cabinet seat as junior Finance Minister that will allow him to ease back in when he is fit.
"Sad news, sad news striking a brilliant, engaged man," Mr. Couillard said of his onetime leadership rival who quickly became a key troubleshooting minister. "We're all in shock. He's such a strong man. Life is unfortunately full of these types of surprises. His doctor has indicated to him that he is seriously ill."
Support for Mr. Moreau, a father of two grown daughters, flowed from friends and rivals alike. Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau wished Mr. Moreau "courage and the strength to reach the cure we're all hoping for."
The elementary and high-school Education portfolio was handed to Sébastien Proulx, a rookie minister who already holds the Families Ministry, giving him two cabinet posts with heavy workloads and ongoing controversial reforms.
"I'm convinced Mr. Proulx is up to the task," Mr. Couillard said.
Higher education and other responsibilities were split among three other ministers.
Mr. Moreau deftly stickhandled funding negotiations with
Quebec's municipalities in the early part of Mr. Couillard's mandate, which gave them less money than they wanted but provided them increased power to counter union demands at the negotiating table.
Mr. Moreau was expected to lead controversial school-system reforms the government says would take power away from boards and give more clout to schools. Just before his arrival in Education, the Liberal government was forced by public pressure to restore $80-million that was cut from the ministry in the 2015 budget.
Mr. Couillard said the reforms will carry on without Mr. Moreau and he promised continuity in Education, a ministry that has had a revolving door with about a dozen ministers in the past 12 years, going back to the era of Jean Charest.
"We will stay the course," Mr. Couillard said. "It's time to bring stability to the ministry."