Couillard loses another trusted hand as Martin Coiteux announces he won't run again

Martin Coiteux, who led the Liberal government's response to last year's flooding and passed a series of major municipal reforms, announced Friday he won't run in October's provincial election.

The former HEC prof, who juggled 2 contentious portfolios, said he wants to spend more time with his family

'My game plan is to do something else other than politics, but I don't know what that is yet,' Public Security and Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux said Friday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Martin Coiteux, who led the Liberal government's response to last year's flooding and passed a series of major municipal reforms, announced Friday he won't run in October's provincial election. 

Coiteux is among the most trusted figures in Premier Philippe Couillard's cabinet. He is currently both minister of public security and municipal affairs, as well as the minister responsible for the Montreal region. 

Before that he served as president of the Treasury Board — an influential, if thankless, position in which he was responsible for many of the cost-cutting measures that characterized the first years of Couillard's term in office. 

Coiteux is the third member of Couillard's cabinet to announce his departure in the lead-up to the election. At least nine other Liberal MNAs have also said they won't be running.

Martin Coiteux was joined by his wife Monica Navarro at a news conference Friday in Montreal, where he announced he was leaving politics. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Though the Liberals are being edged out by the Coalition Avenir Québec in most opinion polls, Coiteux insisted his party's uncertain fortunes had no role to play in his decision. 

"It's a question of the kind of life I want to live personally, and the kind of life I want to impose, or not, on my family," Coiteux, 56, said a news conference in Montreal, his wife, Monica Navarro, at his side.

A trusted hand in crisis 

Earlier on Friday, Couillard acknowledged that Coiteux played a central role in his government.

"His role in the return to a balanced budget was important," Couillard said. "But I think what will go down in history is the profound transformation that he brought about in the relationship between the Quebec government and municipalities."

Last year, Coiteux passed separate pieces of legislation that granted more power to Montreal and Quebec City, as well to local governments across the province. 

But Coiteux's value to Couillard was equally in his ability to handle crises in a serene manner.

He was among those called to account for the province's inability to clear Highway 13 during a freak snowstorm in March 2017. Hundreds were trapped in their cars overnight because of a communication breakdown between authorities. 

Coiteux moved swiftly to bring about changes — including a 24-hour road surveillance office — which he said would prevent a similar incident from recurring.

As public security minister, Coiteux was called to deal with scandals involving the province's anti-corruption unit and the Montreal police service. 

Martin Coiteux's Public Security Ministry was criticized for delays in getting aid to victims of last year's flooding in western Quebec. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

He took the unprecedented move in December of suspending then-SPVM chief Philippe Pichet, following a damning report into the force's internal affairs division. 

When flooding forced thousands of people from their homes in western Quebec last year, Coiteux donned rubber boots and waded into the waters to meet with affected residents.

His ministry, though, has been roundly criticized for delays in getting aid to victims, some of whom remain in temporary shelter one year later.

"It was a major crisis. It was a crisis that mobilized me as a minister for more than a year," Coiteux said Friday.

Since the flooding, he said, the government has increased its financial help for victims and updated its emergency protocols.

What's next? 

Coiteux, who holds a PhD in international economics, was first elected in the Nelligan riding in the West Island in 2014. 

He was part of a trio of economic experts, along with Jacques Daoust and Carlos Leitão, brought in by Couillard to boost the party's chances in that election. 
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard introduces his three economic heavyweights Jacques Daoust, Martin Coiteux and Carlos Leitao, left to right, in Montreal in 2014. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Before entering politics, Coiteux taught economics and international business at HEC Montréal for 20 years. He also worked briefly for the Bank of Canada. 

"My game plan is to do something else other than politics, but I don't know what that is yet," he said Friday.

With files from Kamila Hinkson