Couil­lard banks on big­ger cab­i­net for re­ju­ve­na­tion

Lib­er­als hop­ing for mix of youth­ful panache and sage man­age­ment

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP AU­THIER

It was more pre­ci­sion tin­ker­ing than a new grand plan.

Pre­mier Philippe Couil­lard’s Wednesday cab­i­net shuf­fle, de­signed to give the ag­ing Lib­eral regime a mix of new youth­ful panache and sage man­age­ment, is in re­al­ity a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to put out the nu­mer­ous brush fires en­dan­ger­ing the Lib­eral brand.

Que­bec’s an­glo­phone lobby wanted a greater di­rect voice in de­ci­sion-mak­ing: give them a min­is­ter, Kath­leen Weil.

Que­bec City vot­ers turned their back on the Lib­er­als two weeks ago in the rid­ing of Louis-Hébert: they get a min­is­ter and a half.

Eth­i­cal is­sues are dog­ging you? Fetch an El­liot Ness, in this case squeaky clean for­mer cop Robert Poëti, who makes a re­turn to cab­i­net in a min­istry cre­ated specif­i­cally for him.

As for the firestorm over hear­ings into sys­temic racism, en­ter smooth talk­ing David Heur­tel as im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, who promptly an­nounced he wants to “turn down the vol­ume” on iden­tity pol­i­tics.

In fact, if the gov­ern­ment could make ev­ery­one sleep on com­mand — all the way through to the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2018 — that would be even bet­ter.

That’s be­cause within a few hours of the shuf­fle, the one that is sup­posed to re­ju­ve­nate the Lib­er­als and carry them through to the 2018 elec­tion, ques­tions re­main on what strat­egy they are ac­tu­ally adopt­ing.

Couil­lard has con­ceded Que­be­cers’ de­sire for change is one of the main forces haunting his gov­ern­ment and he can’t cam­paign just on his record, but is what he put on dis­play Wednesday enough to ward off those demons?

There may be more to come in a pos­si­ble fresh in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, but so far “Couil­lard 3.0” looks more like a com­bi­na­tion of what has been ac­com­plished and warn­ings about the need to but­tress Que­bec for a world be­com­ing more closed, pro­tec­tion­ist and neg­a­tive.

“Que­be­cers know the house is in or­der,” the pre­mier said in re­marks after a cer­e­mony to un­veil the beefed-up cab­i­net Wednesday. “They also know all the dis­rup­tions in the world I spoke of are very real and con­crete, that the world, for bet­ter or for worse, is chang­ing.

“In this con­text, they want a team with ex­pe­ri­ence aligned with youth and which has proven it­self. They want a team which will at­tack the real prob­lems. We are this team.”

And in a shot at his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, Couil­lard added the an­swer does not lie in “pes­simism and with­draw­ing into our­selves.”

Off the top, Couil­lard’s new cab­i­net lineup is a lot like the old one and in­cludes the same pil­lars: Car­los Leitão in fi­nance, Gaé­tan Bar­rette in health, Jean-Marc Fournier as house leader, Martin Coi­teux in mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs.

The one place where Couil­lard went out on a limb was his de­ci­sion to add six new min­is­ters to the lineup, in­clud­ing putting two green­horns in charge of the most dif­fi­cult min­istry in the gov­ern­ment, trans­port.

Known as the job no­body wants — eight dif­fer­ent min­is­ters have held the post over seven years — trans­port has been the source of em­bar­rass­ment to the gov­ern­ment; from its se­cre­tive ivory tower bu­reau­cracy and al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion to the de­ba­cle last win­ter on High­way 13.

And don’t forget the loom­ing de­par­ture of the Uber ride-shar­ing ser­vice and the fu­ture of the taxi in­dus­try.

Yet it’s the 35-year-old MNA for the Pon­tiac, An­dré Fortin, as trans­port min­is­ter and the 43-year-old MNA for Chau­veau, Véronyque Trem­blay, in the ju­nior trans­port role, that Couil­lard has sent in to slay the beast.

Both are first-timers as cab­i­net min­is­ters.

Job one? Those or­ange cones and traf­fic jams, a con­fi­dent Fortin said later.

“The point of hav­ing a min­is­ter of trans­port is to make trans­porta­tion eas­ier across Que­bec, to give fam­i­lies back time,” he said.

Couil­lard plucked a few other new­bies off the back­bench for the cab­i­net, which has grown from 25 to 30 mem­bers. Ver­dun MNA Is­abelle Me­lançon gets the en­vi­ron­ment job just as Que­bec is shift­ing it­self away from oil and cli­mate change is on ev­ery­one’s agenda.

And Cré­mazie MNA Marie Mont­petit, bet­ter know for try­ing to get the name of her rid­ing changed to Mau­rice Richard, lands in cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which means she is re­spon­si­ble for the French Lan­guage Char­ter.

She was asked by re­porters for her view on the state of French on the is­land of Mon­treal.

“There are im­prove­ments to make, but there are also im­prove­ments which have al­ready been done,” Mont­petit said tact­fully.

Fi­nally, the last new face is re­ally an old face, Poëti, who be­comes Couil­lard’s new cab­i­net eth­i­cal watchdog as min­is­ter to the in­tegrity of pub­lic spend­ing.

To ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, the one per­son Couil­lard dropped from cab­i­net, demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions min­is­ter Rita de San­tis, bravely turned up to watch the swear­ing

from a front-row seat in the red room.

“I am hu­man,” de San­tis told the Mon­treal Gazette. “Of course one is dis­ap­pointed, but it is his (Couil­lard’s) choice. I have been a Lib­eral since 1978 and I have al­ways been very loyal to the party and the lead­ers.”

The other big news in the shuf­fle was Couil­lard’s de­ci­sion to act on a prom­ise he made in June to give the an­glo­phone com­mu­nity a greater voice in his gov­ern­ment.

After an­nounc­ing last June that he would cre­ate a sec­re­tar­iat for re­la­tions with the English-speak­ing com­mu­nity, Couil­lard added the min­is­ter Weil.

Re­ac­tion was mixed. While the Que­bec Com­mu­nity Groups Net­work wel­comed Weil as a “strong ad­vo­cate,” for­mer Equal­ity Party Leader Robert Lib­man said it is “noth­ing more than a sym­bolic and su­per­fi­cial ges­ture for elec­toral pur­poses.”

Meet­ing re­porters, Weil de­scribed the de­ci­sion as his­toric and said she has heard the op­po­site view be­cause or­ga­ni­za­tions

like the QCGN have been ask­ing for a min­is­ter for years.

“I think peo­ple see it as a pos­i­tive mes­sage that we’re going to work harder (for the com­mu­nity),” Weil said.

She bris­tled, how­ever, when asked about Lib­man’s com­ments that she has never been seen as a de­fender or spokesper­son for the com­mu­nity while D’Arcy-McGee MNA David Birn­baum has.

“I have a nat­u­ral sen­si­tiv­ity,” Weil said. “I had an­other man­date, which was im­mi­gra­tion, but I am from N.D.G., which is ma­jor­ity English-speak­ing and I am very close to the com­mu­nity.

Weil in­sisted she has al­ways been proud of her Scot­tish-Ir­ish roots as an an­glo­phone and her cab­i­net col­leagues were aware of this.

“I’ve never been ashamed of it, quite the op­po­site,” Weil said.

The last time a gov­ern­ment had a min­is­ter for the com­mu­nity was when Pauline Marois was pre­mier and named Jean-François Lisée to the post.

FRANCIS VACHON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Pre­mier Philippe Couil­lard says he has ful­filled his prom­ise to bet­ter serve the English-speak­ing com­mu­nity, nam­ing Kath­leen Weil as the Min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for re­la­tions with An­glo­phones dur­ing the cab­i­net shuf­fle he re­vealed on Wednesday.

FRANCIS VACHON/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mem­bers of the new Lib­eral cab­i­net at the National Assem­bly in Que­bec City on Wednesday. Pre­mier Philippe Couil­lard shuf­fled his cab­i­net in a bid to give it a younger look ahead of next year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

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