Montreal

Longtime Liberal MNA François Ouimet forced out — says Premier Couillard broke promise

In an emotional statement, Liberal MNA François Ouimet said he had been promised a seat in the Marquette riding by Premier Philippe Couillard in May, but found out on Wednesday morning that "that promise was not honoured."

Former hockey player expected to step in for 24-year veteran of National Assembly

Liberal MNA François Ouimet said he was 'hurt' by the Liberal party's decision to hand his seat in the Marquette riding, which he has held since 1994, to former NHL player Enrico Ciccone. (CBC)

François Ouimet's voice cracked several times as he spoke to reporters inside the National Assembly's press gallery.

After a "brief" phone call with Premier Philippe Couillard, Ouimet confirmed Wednesday morning he will not be the Liberal candidate for the Marquette riding in the upcoming provincial election.

"I won't hide that the actions taken over the last days have been hurtful," said Ouimet.

The Liberal party confirmed Tuesday evening that Ouimet was not going to be running under its banner.

Instead, Radio-Canada is reporting that former NHL player Enrico Ciccone will take on the PLQ candidacy in Marquette, which encompasses Montreal's Lachine borough, and the cities of Dorval and Île-Dorval.

The formal announcement will be made Thursday morning, Radio-Canada reported.

Ouimet said the decision breaks the promise Couillard made to him in May, when rumours about his place in the party were circulating.

​"When you shake someone's hand, and the person looks you in the eyes, and the person tells me, 'Do not worry, I will sign your candidacy form,' you believe that," said Ouimet, visibly upset.

"When a premier tells you that, you rely on this word."

A push for 'party renewal'

The 58-year old would not go into the possible motives behind his dismissal, simply stating he sensed there was a push for the "renewal of the party."

Ouimet said citizens and Liberal party supporters in his riding have reached out to him in the past hours. 

"A lot of people do believe there was a betrayal," he said.

Premier Philippe Couillard said Wednesday that he aims to have 'a good mix of experience and renewal' in the candidates running in the Oct. 1 election. (CBC)

Later, at a news conference to announce an $862-million program to help Quebec businesses affected by U.S. tariffs, Couillard said he was "saddened" by the decision to revoke Ouimet's candidacy.

He expressed his respect for Ouimet, and said letting him go was "a very, very difficult decision."

"It's not a judgment on the person," he said.

Couillard said Ouimet was unfortunately caught up in the "bottleneck effect" of having too many candidates "of great quality" and a limited number of ridings. "There is no easy way to do this," he said.

"I have to keep a good mix of experience and renewal," Couillard said.

He would not confirm whether Ciccone would step in to run for the Liberals in the Marquette riding, saying an announcement would be made in a few days.

24 year-career

Ouimet's colleagues within the PLQ were tight lipped on Wednesday.

Christine St-Pierre said the decision must have been a difficult one for the party, "but when you are asked to leave, you must have the elegance to do so."

Kathleen Weil said information about the shakeup wasn't shared with other Liberal MNAs.

"This must have been tough, but the decision was made," she said.

Premier Couillard is expected to address the move at a press conference later today.

If Ouimet had been re-elected, he would have become the longest-sitting member in the National Assembly.

He has held his riding since 1994 and thanked his constituents.

"I know what it's like to grow up with dreams and aspirations, but little means to make them real other than hard work. That's why I wanted to give back to the community and fight for better."

​He held several different responsibilities over his 24 years in office, and served as vice-president of the National Assembly since May 2014.

With files from Radio-Canada

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