Couillard looking to build on strong start

The first days of an election campaign are always fascinating, and this one has proven no different from my viewpoint on the Liberal bus.
Quebec Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard hops on his campaign bus after a news conference on education in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/ Canadian Press)

The first days of an election campaign are always fascinating, and this one has proven no different from my viewpoint on the Liberal bus. 

As soon as the writ was dropped, Philippe Couillard seemed to find his voice – a combative one.

The rookie Liberal leader was on the attack from the get-go, shedding his nice-guy image and instead opting to talk about “hating” the PQ government for attempting to divide the population on issues like the charter. 

It’s a side Couillard badly needed to show at the start of this campaign. He had to raise the spirits of the Liberal troops after polls showed the PQ ahead in voting intentions, particularly among francophones.

So what is behind the sudden change in tone from the Liberal leader?

Undoubtedly, Couillard knows how much is on the line.

But there’s also something literally behind him on most campaign stops: the well-oiled Liberal machine.

Couillard has plenty of advisers who know how to run an effective campaign.

I’ve noticed former justice minister and incumbent for St-Laurent, Jean-Marc Fournier, at rally after rally, the same role he played for former Liberal leader Jean Charest.

Fournier spends a lot of time with Couillard on his bus, ready to give advice on a line in a speech – and applaud forcefully when that line is delivered well.

And the list of prominent former Liberals at the nightly rallies goes on.

The trick for Couillard now is to find a way to keep his momentum going.

The first days were not perfect.

There was a rambling speech in Shawinigan and a few too many references to a tired hockey analogy, complete with the image of battling in the corners for the puck.

But the Liberals were able to stay on their message track: Jobs, helped by a gift from the statistic gods that came in the form of dismal job numbers for February. 

It’s only this past weekend that the Liberal chef started to falter, with two announcements void of details that were completely lost in the noise that was the game-changing entry of media mogul Pierre-Karl Péladeau into the PQ fold.

A lot can change between now and April 7, but Couillard will have to turn to those veteran Liberal advisers to find a way to counter the renewed PQ wave – and fast.


Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is CBC's India correspondent, based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.