Couillard becomes Quebec premier and warns of tough economic decisions
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014 04:30 pm
QUEBEC - Philippe Couillard was sworn in as Quebec premier on Wednesday and immediately warned that the time has come for hard economic decisions.
The Liberal premier may feel emboldened in introducing austerity measures after winning 70 of the 125 ridings up for grabs in the April 7 election.
After unveiling his 26-member cabinet, Couillard reeled off a litany of the economic difficulties facing Quebec: a rampant provincial debt that is the highest in the country; the heaviest tax burden; and the highest level of expenditures.
"In a nutshell, we've been spending beyond our means for a long time," Couillard said. "The debt is high. The interest payments (on it) are higher than the budget for the Education Department.
"So we have to act with decisiveness, courage and determination to rectify a situation that represents a threat to the quality of life for current and future generations.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the time for marginal or cosmetic measures has gone. It is time for difficult decisions."
The man who will make many of these decisions will be new Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, a former chief economist with the Laurentian Bank.
Leitao, a political rookie, will likely table a budget in the coming weeks.
The cabinet has eight women, including new deputy premier Lise Theriault, who will also serve as public security minister.
The government also has a decidedly medical bent, with three doctors occupying key positions.
Firstly there's neurosurgeon Couillard. Then there's Health Minister Gaetan Barrette, a radiologist who until the election campaign was head of the federation representing specialist doctors.
Rounding out the trio is general practitioner and former health minister Yves Bolduc, who will head the Education Department.
Between them, Barrette and Bolduc will oversee 75 per cent of the Quebec budget.
Interim Parti Quebecois leader Stephane Bedard lamented what he described as a lack of details on how the new government would create jobs.
"There will be other opportunities but it is crucial to know about that because, otherwise, there could be a loss of consumer confidence and a loss of confidence among investors," Bedard said.
Coalition Leader Francois Legault urged Leitao to introduce income-tax relief when he tables his budget.
"It's vital for Quebecers to get a tax cut — for them but also to get the economy rolling."
Legault took Couillard to task for the size of his cabinet.
"Twenty-seven ministers (including Couillard), that is a lot of limousines," he said. "He should have set an example by having a much smaller cabinet."
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Couillard should be premier for more than four years because the next general election is set for October 2018.