Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard took a break from the campaign trail this week to sit down with CBC's Daybreak to discuss everything from allegations concerning the husband of Parti Québec Leader Pauline Marois to West Island commuters and the Train de L'Ouest.
Mike Finnerty: Allegations contained in Alain Gravel's Enquête piece say that Pauline Marois's husband, Claude Blanchet, solicited donations from two engineering bosses. Blanchet denies the allegations and his lawyer says they are defamatory. Nothing he is alleged to have done in terms of asking for donations is illegal. Did he do anything wrong?
Philippe Couillard: This party and this leader, Madame Marois, for the last two, three years was very good at giving lessons to others. She claimed total virginity, if I could say so, in those matters. Well we see it's not true. That's the main take home-message for me here.
'The Train de L'Ouest is one of our priorities... It will happen.' - Philippe Couillard, Quebec Liberal leader
MF: What's the first thing you would do when you become premier?
PC: The first thing we would do is ask the auditor general to check the public finances to see what amount of red we have to correct in our first budget.
And, of course, we have to initiate, as early as possible, measures that will jump start the economy, create jobs, infrastructure and the home renovation credit.
Those are two examples we can start almost on day one, before the budget.
MF: If you were to take power, you'd be taking over after a PQ government that's been in place for 18 months. What would you do with some measures, such as the deal to explore for oil on Anticosti Island?
PC: I'm going to review it. The state has signed. I'm respectful of institutions and the signature of the state has been put there... I can at least pause and ask for explanations. What I don't like in this deal is not the fact that we could exploit oil — it's good if we have oil in Quebec that we can exploit it for the benefit of all Quebecers. I don't like the fact that it's a high risk situation where nobody knows exactly how much oil can be taken out of Anticosti and the majority of the risk is on the taxpayers.
MF: Denis Coddere wants greater power for Montreal on a number of levels. Do you see a special status for the big cities of Quebec?
PC: We've already said yes to this. We want to have legislation for Montreal [that's the same as what] exists for Toronto.
We want the same for Montreal, which is also an international metropolis that needs to have the tools it must have to succeed. We also want to redefine the relationship between Quebec City and the municipalities in a much more mature way.
MF: One of the things that drives some of our listeners crazy is the overlapping jurisdiction of the AMT — the provincial suburban train service. It operates separately, not always inline with the city and the greater Montreal community. Montreal would like to get rid of it and just have it all under one umbrella. Can we get rid of the AMT?
PC: This is something I want to discuss with the metropolitan committee when we come into office. I've actually discussed it with Mayor Coderre.
I think the planning has to be done from a much more regional point of view, rather than case by case or part of the island separately from the north shore and south shore of Montreal. Whether the role of the AMT has to be redefined remains to be seen, but this is something we want to discuss.
MF: West Islanders feel like they're eternally neglected by the PQ because they see no political advantage by courting them, and by your party, because frankly they don't think you see much political advantage in courting them because they're going to vote for you anyway. What about the Train de L'Ouest?
PC: The Train de L'Ouest is one of our priorities. We have the Train de L'Ouest in West Island, because 300,000 people commute everyday, and on the east end, we have the subway we want to carry further east. But the Train de L'Ouest is definitely on top of the priority list. It will happen.
MF: If Fraçois Legault retains even most of his seats and the election is fairly close, he might be in a position to hold the balance of power. If you come in first, would you consider going into a coalition with him, signing an agreement and bringing his people on board so that we can avoid another election campaign in just 18 months?
PC: You will not be surprised to hear me say that we will have a Liberal majority government. That's what we're aiming for, and frankly I see signs of this on the ground... We will always be sensitive to Quebecers, but again, we will have a majority government on April 7.
There's an urgency to change this government that has put Quebec in the red. We are the only credible alternative that can form a credible team. And a vote for the CAQ, is actually a vote for the PQ.
'The French face of Quebec is important, it's part of our identity, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't learn another language. ' - Philippe Couillard, Quebec Liberal leader
MF: Given what we've seen over the past few weeks, isn't it obvious that the PQ couldn't hold a referendum in any short framework of time?
PC: Given what we have seen in recent decades, they will have a referendum. When they came into office in '94, sovereignty was low in the polls and we were in a referendum a year later ... Today it is still the ballot question: a referendum or a government focusing on the economy?
MF: During the last debate, you were asked about bilingualism in Quebec and you said that learning English is not a threat, in fact it is an asset, even for a factory worker. That hit a lot of nerves. Did you make a mistake?
PC: No, I quoted facts and even an article in Bill 101. Even in our small and medium businesses, in our more and more globalized economy, there are companies that export more and more.
Of course there are certain positions where people will need to be bilingual, particularly dealing with clients and service. This is obvious, it shouldn't even need to be said.
The French face of Quebec is important, it's part of our identity, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't learn another language.
MF: Have Quebecers warmed to you? Do they want you to be the premier?
PC: I feel it, I feel it around Quebec.
I think I've seen that my previous profession kept me somewhat aloof sometimes from issues, because of the nature of what I was doing before as a surgeon, as a physician.
I also know now, for many months, that politics is not something that you do only with your head, it's something you do also with your heart and your gut and this is what I'm going to do until April 7th.