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Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard takes the stage with his wife, Suzanne Pilote, at his rally headquarters in St. Felicien, Que., April 7, 2014. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)
Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard takes the stage with his wife, Suzanne Pilote, at his rally headquarters in St. Felicien, Que., April 7, 2014. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

What Quebec and the rest of Canada need to know about Philippe Couillard Add to ...

Who is Philippe Couillard and what kind of premier will he be?

He has been described as a mild-mannered brain surgeon, an intellectual who would pepper email messages to colleagues with Latin phrases, and a staunch federalist in a province where sovereignty is always a topic.

Vital statistics

  • 56 years old and the father of five. Married to Suzanne Pilote.
  • Quebec roots date back to the 17th century and the earliest European settlers of New France.
  • Achieved his medical degree at the age of 22 and his specialization in brain surgery at 28 and was director of neurosurgery at a major metropolitan hospital at 32.
  • First elected to the legislature in 2003. Health minister under premier Jean Charest, 2003-08. Resigned in 2008 and returned to the private sector.
  • Elected Liberal Leader in March, 2013; won a by-election in December, 2013.

What does his medical background bring to the job?

Mr. Couillard was the head of the department of neurosurgery at Hôpital Saint-Luc in Montreal from 1989 to 1992 before leaving Canada for Saudi Arabia in 1992 with his first wife and three children. He co-founded and ran a neurosurgery department at the Saudi Aramco Medical Services Organization in Dhahran before returning to Canada in 1996, becoming head of neurosurgery at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke until 2003.

Described by colleagues as a man of commanding intellect, he was trained to stay cool under pressure while planning and leading large teams of specialists through complicated procedures. Known for his even temper, he can sometimes look uncomfortable on the political stage, appearing cool to the point of detachment.

“Neurosurgeons play inside brains. Their training is long. It’s not easy and it’s very meticulous. You need to be a bit transcendent … so rational that it can leave an impression of arrogance. But he’s not arrogant,” says Yves Lamontagne, former head of the Quebec College of Physicians.

Is his relatively brief time in political office a strength or weakness?

Mr. Couillard left medicine for public service in 2003 and was elected MNA for Mont-Royal. He was appointed minister of health and social services almost immediately and retained the post for five years. He resigned as minister in 2008, returning to politics four years later in the race to succeed Mr. Charest.

His five-year term as health minister generally met with positive reviews. The province reduced waiting times for joint-replacement surgery and other procedures, streamlined bloated union accreditations and prohibited smoking in public places.

The fact that Mr. Couillard is not as seasoned as politician as Mr. Charest might not be a bad thing. Mr. Charest left office facing criticism for the revelations of fundraising improprieties, but Mr. Couillard will look to distance his party from past scandals.

His acceptance speech on Monday stressed unity and reconciliation: “The time of inflicting wounds is over. We are all Quebeckers. We should focus on what brings us together. Division is over. Reconciliation begins.”

What will the new Liberal government focus on?

The Quebec Liberal platform stressed the economy, jobs and health care, but much of the debate during the election focused on federalism, bilingualism and the PQ’s proposed charter of values. Mr. Couillard made it clear during his campaign that if the Liberals won the election:

  • The Canadian flag would return to the Quebec National Assembly’s Salon Rouge.
  • The government would make public any legal advice the Parti Québécois received on the charter of values proposition (something Pauline Marois refused to do).
  • English immersion in Grade 6 would be restored.
  • $750-million would be spent over five years on home care for seniors, expand Quebec’s network of group family practice clinics and create 44 new super-clinics, which would cover 24-hour care by doctors and nurses, diagnostic testing and other services designed to lighten the load for emergency rooms
  • $301-million would be spent over four years relaunching Plan Nord, an economic development plan for the north; $214-million would be spent on a maritime strategy to renew cargo shipping on the St. Lawrence; 250,000 jobs would be created over five years.

With reports from Les Perreaux, Ingrid Peritz and The Canadian Press.

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