Philippe Couillard talks debunked mosque report, learning lessons from Valérie Plante

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke about the now-debunked mosque news report, the Bonjour/Hi controversy and what he learned from Valérie Plante's victory.

Quebec premier speaks about how the Bonjour/Hi motion and fallout hurt English-speaking Quebecers

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard weighed in on several issues including lessons learned from recent events. (CBC)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is standing by his comments on a French-language television network's report that a Montreal mosque tried to have women banned from a nearby work site before verifying it.

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec, the premier spoke about the now-debunked news report and the Bonjour/Hi controversy. 

With less than a year until the provincial election, Couillard also acknowledged that he's learned some lessons from Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante's stunning victory over incumbent Denis Coderre.

Here are excerpts from that interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.


On commenting about TVA's mosque report before it was verified

TVA says it obtained 'new information' that shows the story has 'evolved' to the point where it can no longer definitively say the request to bar women from the work site had ever been made. (CBC)

You always have to state your principles. But I also said, 'we need to check the facts also' and I'm happy I said that, because it turns out that the facts were...it was baseless, essentially. But you know it remains the case that for us this question of equality of men and women is fundamental. And nothing should interfere with this.

This being said, obviously now we know this story was non-existent as far as we can tell. We almost had the demonstration from extreme-right groups on this. Of course social tensions immediately went up. It shows how sensitive this issue is and how the media should be quite careful about the way stories are reported or spread.

It reminds me in 2007 when there was a so-called accommodation crisis which, in the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, was actually shown to be to be almost baseless as well. Those are very, very sensitive times and people should be quite careful. But I'm happy also I could state my principles, our principles on this issue.

On tabling a motion to honour the Muslim community one year after the Quebec City mosque shooting

CBC News at 6 host Debra Arbec sits down with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard for a one-on-one interview. 4:38

We're not sitting right now but I think it certainly should be done. It's something that we can do when we come back in February because, again, members were quite good in the way they expressed their solidarity with the Muslim community at that time.

I'd be very happy to table it myself, of course, yes. I suspect it will be adopted unanimously.

On learning from Valérie Plante's victory and Denis Coderre's loss

Valérie Plante is the first woman to be elected mayor of Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Denis essentially ran on his record which I think is not enough. People know that. We know that you created jobs, we know you've managed the public's finances well but the next four years, what will you do for us? That is the question.

And Valérie Plante, whom I hope to meet soon, came out as very positive. When I mentioned [her] smile, I didn't mean that she didn't have ideas but she expressed her ideas in a positive, forward-looking way, smiling. That's something people also want to see. And she was also very respectful toward her opponents — this is also the type of politics people want to see.

On how the Bonjour/Hi motion hurt the Anglo community

I saw that. I felt that. And basically I will say again, I think we underestimated the impact it would have among English-speaking Quebecers. Basically we felt we have completely neutralized it, there's nothing wrong in inviting people to say bonjour. They can say anything else on top of it if they want but just a matter of reminding us that we live in this society of Quebec. So I immediately felt how it was perceived in the English-speaking community among English-speaking Quebecers.

I think it never happened before in Quebec that a Quebec premier rose at the assembly to answer a question, asked in French, in English. And I did it deliberately knowing the risks it involved for certain people of our French-speaking community but also the importance of reaching out and telling English-speaking Quebecers something I believe very deeply — that we're all first-class citizens and we want everyone to be active participants and feel welcome in our society.

And saying again, I've said it many times, not a lot of premiers have said it before me, English is not a foreign language in Quebec. It's part of our history, it's also a part of who we are.