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Philippe Couillard leaves politics with plea for tolerance of minorities

Quebec Premier and Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard pauses as he gets emotional while announcing his resignation as Premier and MNA for the riding of Roberval, Thursday, October 4, 2018 at the legislature in Quebec City. Couillard's wife Suzanne Pilote, left, comforts him.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
October 04, 2018 - 2:30 PM

QUEBEC - Outgoing Quebec premier Philippe Couillard made an impassioned plea for the respect of minority rights Thursday as he announced he is leaving politics following the Liberals' crushing election defeat.

"The majority does not have all the rights, and those that it exercises must be compensated by a protection of those of minorities," he said in the foyer of the national assembly in Quebec City. "It is a fundamental democratic principle."

The message seemed squarely aimed at Francois Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec, which swept to power Monday on a platform promising a hard line on religious symbols in the public service and immigration.

It was toward the end of Couillard's roughly 10-minute speech, that he said he wanted to speak about "our freedoms."

"Over the course of our 400 years of history, we have defended them, sometimes to the point of ultimate sacrifice," he said. "They are contained in the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms. They are precious and therefore fragile. Let's take good care of them."

He quoted the French author Amin Malouf, who said the treatment of minorities is "one of the surest indicators of moral progress, or of regression." Couillard said Quebec must remain "an inclusive society where all are invited to the table, a place where humans are judged for what is in their heads, their hearts, for what they have to contribute."

He made the announcement alongside his wife Suzanne Pilote, who put her arm around him as he choked up at one point. He was greeted by a long ovation and cries of his name from the Liberal candidates and staffers present.

"The unequivocal general election result, even after a mandate that was marked by a recovery and a historic revival of Quebec, leads me to make this decision," Couillard said. "The desire for change was clearly expressed, so we must accept the consequences."

Elected premier in 2014, Couillard served one mandate before his Liberals were swept from office by the Coalition.

The 61-year-old neurosurgeon had campaigned on his government's economic record, pointing to four consecutive balanced budgets and a thriving Quebec economy. But he led a party that had been in power for 13 of the past 15 years, and voters were thirsty for change.

The Coalition presented itself as the key to breaking the 50-year grip of the federalist Liberals and sovereigntist Parti Quebecois on Quebec politics. It also capitalized on identity issues, promising to reduce immigration, impose French and values tests on new arrivals and prohibit public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

Speaking on election night in his riding of Roberval, Couillard boasted, "I am leaving Quebec in a much better state than I found it."

Despite leading the Liberals to their lowest share of the popular vote ever, Couillard said he was not bitter about the result.

"I'm proud, and you should be too," he told supporters.

The Liberal caucus, reduced to 32 members Monday, is expected to meet Friday to name an interim leader and set the groundwork for an eventual leadership race.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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