Editorial: Philippe Couillard's Liberals have earned a new mandate


Sans surprise, le Montreal Gazette appelle à voter rouge

The Couillard Liberals won the last election promising to focus on “les vraies affaires,” and that is what they have done. Their priority at the start of their mandate in 2014 was to put the province’s economic house in order. Now, the economy is booming. Unemployment is low. Quebec is an attractive place to live and work. Gone are the much darker days when confidence in the future was sorely tested.

There is no doubt that the government’s budgetary belt-tightening early in its mandate caused hardships. And our health care and education systems are still not all they should be. However, this province now is in a better position to make the necessary reinvestments in these key sectors.

When it comes to the particular concerns of English-speaking Quebecers, the Couillard government’s actions speak louder than its tone-deaf words on Bonjour-Hi. The new Secretariat for anglo affairs will help protect the community’s rights and interests at the highest levels of policy-making.

Has the Couillard government made mistakes? Undoubtedly, not least its unnecessary restrictions on face coverings and near-useless guidelines on religious accommodation; and if Bill 62 was intended to inoculate Quebecers against another round of identity politics, it failed miserably.

The three other major parties would forbid signs of religion (most notably, hijabs, turbans or kippahs) on public employees wielding state authority. That would have a discriminatory impact on religious minorities for whom wearing these are a form of religious practice. Only the Liberals have firmly opposed such a policy, with Philippe Couillard in the third debate delivering a principled rebuttal to François Legault’s hectoring about “Quebec values.”

Legault has not inspired confidence.

The CAQ leader has adopted a divisive discourse, playing on francophones’ fears.

He looked foolish when he betrayed a lack of understanding of the immigration file, despite having made reducing immigration levels and testing of language and values an important plank in his platform.

Also unimpressive were Legault’s repeated declarations that parents would get $2,400 per child, even though that’s a maximum, not the rate for everyone. After his inaccuracy was pointed out, he kept repeating the line.

It was worrisome to hear Legault refer to the anglo Secretariat dismissively as a “smokescreen,” although he said he would keep it. Also of deep concern to the community should be his plan to abolish school boards.

By contrast, Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois showed leadership on the urgent threat of climate change and on the need for Quebec’s prosperity to be used to benefit all, even if Québec solidaire’s separatism, pie-in-the-sky economics and willingness to trample the rights of religious minorities should disqualify them from serious consideration.

As for the Parti Québécois, Jean-François Lisée has made it clear that he remains a committed sovereignist and would ban signs of religion on authority figures. As well, he has a record of divisive discourse (even criticizing a leadership rival’s tweeting of Eid greetings) when it serves his purpose.

But support for Philippe Couillard’s Liberals should not merely be by elimination. His government has earned Quebecers’ support with its economic stewardship, spirit of constructive partnership with the rest of Canada and vision of an inclusive Quebec. And as we potentially head into rougher economic waters with NAFTA results still in doubt, a steady hand on the tiller is all the more essential.