Couillard promises to replace Gaétan Barrette, his unpopular health minister, with new star candidate

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard says he will replace Gaétan Barrette, his unpopular health minister, with political newcomer Gertrude Bourdon, a top hospital administrator, if given a second mandate as premier.

If Liberals win, Gertrude Bourdon would take over health, while Barrette would head Treasury Board

Gertrude Bourdon, centre, smiles after Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard (not shown) announced she would become health minister in a Liberal government. Former health minister Gaétan Barrette, left, was all smiles during the announcement. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said Friday he will replace Gaétan Barrette, his unpopular health minister, with political newcomer Gertrude Bourdon if given a second mandate as premier.

But polls for the past year suggest that second mandate may not happen — and one factor dragging down the Couillard government's popularity is dissatisfaction with the sweeping health-care reforms Barrette imposed.

"Things are improving every day," Couillard told reporters at a news conference where Bourdon, a onetime nurse who became a top hospital administrator, was presented as the Liberal candidate in Quebec City's Jean-Lesage riding.

"I have never seen another health minister change what he has changed," the Liberal leader, himself a former provincial health minister, said of Barrette.

A recent Mainstreet poll found that 81 per cent of those surveyed do not want Barrette in the health portfolio.

Earlier this week, CAQ Leader François Legault, citing the poll results, called on Couillard to replace Barrette.

​Couillard said Barrette, who was all smiles at the news conference, will take over as president of the Treasury Board, a key position, if the Liberals win the election.

Barrette would be responsible for the province's spending and public sector wage negotiations.

And contrary to opposition criticism of his bulldozer approach, Couillard said Barrette would show "tact and diplomacy" at the Treasury Board, where he has to deal with requests for funding from all his cabinet colleagues.

Couillard credited his health minister's reforms for reduced hospital wait times and providing an additional 1.1 million Quebecers with a family doctor.

As well, Barrette's so-called super clinics have eased pressure on hospital emergency rooms, he said.

Barrette recruited Bourdon

Gaétan Barrette oversaw a series of major reforms as Quebec's health minister. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Barrette said he has known Bourdon for 15 years and had been having conversations with her for several months about one day succeeding him in the health portfolio.

"It doesn't take a doctor," Barrette said. "It takes someone with a capacity for management.

"She manages well."

Bourdon said Barrette had shown "extreme courage" in proposing his reforms, and said she agrees with Barrette's approach.

The policies in place, she said, would give her tools to make adjustments.

Bourdon admitted she was also talking to the Parti Québécois and the CAQ, explaining that in her role as a hospital administrator, the politicians came to her.

She said those talks were "private conversations," but as a federalist who voted No in Quebec's two sovereignty referendums, she would not run for the PQ.

As for the CAQ, she said the party's values "are not my values" and the program is "a bad program."

Bourdon insisted that she was solicited by the three parties and did not go to them.

Couillard said, like other voters, Bourdon got to know the parties, compared them, then chose the Liberal party.

Asked if she would stay on as an opposition member if she wins her seat but the Liberals lose the election, Bourdon said, "That won't happen."

The CAQ is far ahead of the Liberals in the Quebec City region and Jean-Lesage riding will be a tough race for Bourdon.

Bourdon resigned effective Friday from her position as president and CEO of the CHU de Québec-Université Laval, a grouping of five Quebec City teaching hospitals.

Gertrude Bourdon, the Liberal candidate for Jean-Lesage, could be appointed health minister if the Couillard Liberals win the election. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Not well-known by the public but well-respected by her peers, Bourdon, 63, began her nurse's training at age 29, and after rising to head nurse at the Université Laval's main teaching hospital by age 35, she took management courses and became a hospital administrator.

Barrette named made her CEO of the CHU in 2015. Her salary and benefits of $300,440 make her one of Quebec's highest-paid public servants.

As a minister her salary will drop to $167,482.

She was appointed officer of the Order of Canada in June and wore her Order of Canada pin at the news conference. 

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