Couillard defends new Liberal star candidate Gertrude Bourdon

At the Liberals' first health announcement, leader Philippe Couillard came to the defence of the party's new candidate and would-be health minister, Gertrude Bourdon, whose foray into politics is off to a rocky start.

Couillard says CAQ put too much pressure on Bourdon in trying to recruit her

Gertrude Bourdon said she had already decided to join the Liberals when she sent replied to a text message of Coalition Avenir Québec's campaign director Martin Koskinen. (Radio-Canada)

At the Liberal party's first official health announcement of the campaign, leader Philippe Couillard came to the defence of new candidate and would-be health minister, Gertrude Bourdon, whose foray into politics is off to a rocky start. 

Couillard is promising to invest an extra $14 million a year in health care, providing two health insurance cards to every child, adding video consultations with doctors and 25 new super clinics.

But the proposals were overshadowed by Bourdon's presence, her second appearance as the Liberal candidate for the Quebec City riding of Jean-Lesage.

Bourdon was reportedly ready to join the front-running Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) until less than a week ago, when she made the decision to join the Liberal Party instead.

Texts between Bourdon and a CAQ chief of staff, Martin Koskinen, surfaced in La Presse Saturday before the announcement. CBC obtained screenshots of the exchange. 

In the text messages, Koskinen assures Bourdon that CAQ leader François Legault was firm on his commitment to make her health minister should he be elected Oct. 1.

"I sincerely believe we are going to make history," Koskinen wrote. 

To which Bourdon replied, "I think so, too."

New Liberal party candidate and party choice for health minister, Gertrude Bourdon, defended her change of mind not to join Coalition Avenir Québec. (Radio-Canada)

Bourdon taken by surprise

Bourdon, a former nurse, was named president and executive director of the Quebec City's health centre, known as the CHU de Québec, by Liberal Health Minister Gaétan Barrette in 2015.

When reporters asked about the texts and Bourdon's change of heart at Saturday's announcement, she appeared uncomfortable.

Bourdon said her decision to join the Liberals had already been made when she sent the reply to Koskinen, adding she met with Legault in Montreal the next day to tell him she would not be running under his campaign.

"I am making history. I'm here," Bourdon said Saturday. "I'll tell you this: what's private should stay private."

Couillard defended Bourdon afterward, saying he believed the CAQ had misinterpreted Bourdon's text message reply and that it had put too much pressure on her in their recruitment efforts.

"I know the process she was going through," Couillard said. "She's of the calibre that you see and she needed, in my mind, to be left alone to make her decision."

Legault said his decision to leak the text messages was "exceptional, but I think truth still has its right in Quebec. And I'm going to let Quebecers judge [Bourdon's] way of behaving."

As for Bourdon's priorities for Quebec's health care system, she said that will become clear as the campaign unfolds.

Also Saturday, Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée chimed in on Twitter, in reaction to the Liberals' health proposals. Lisée wrote that his party came up with the idea to hand out two health insurance cards during the last provincial election in 2014.

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With files from CBC's Cathy Senay


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