Montreal

Couillard says his government 'took care of business,' predicts Liberal majority in October election

Speaking at the close of the last National Assembly sitting before the Oct. 1 election, the Quebec premier says his expects win a majority, despite polls that have his Liberals trailing François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec, while Legault said he confident the CAQ will win. Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée predicted a PQ upset.

Couillard doesn't mention François Legault, but targets Trump as he gears up for election

Premier Philippe Couillard, flanked by the members of the Liberal caucus, told reporters in Quebec City Friday morning that he believes his government will win a second mandate. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Premier Philippe Couillard says his government has made good on its promise to "take care of business" in its first four-year mandate, predicting Quebec voters would deliver him a second majority government in the fall election.

At a Friday morning outdoor news conference, backed up by all the members of the Liberal caucus, who burst into applause on his projection of a new Liberal win, Couillard never mentioned François Legault.

Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec has been leading the Liberals in successive polls.

Asked by reporters why he did not mention Legault, when hours earlier his party issued a news release questioning the CAQ leader's credibility, the Liberal leader grew testy.

"Everything he [Legault] predicted we could not do, we did," he said.

"We balanced the budget, we reduced taxes, we created jobs."

"I did exactly what I said I would do," Couillard said.

The premier also defended his government's decision to invest in Bombardier Inc.'s C Series passenger jet and in favour of supply management, ensuring stable incomes for Quebec's dairy farmers.

Couillard named U.S. President Donald Trump as a source of "economic instability at our doorstep."

"The decisions of Donald Trump are as much a threat for the economic stability of Quebec as for our workers, our businesses and our agriculture," Couillard said.

"We will certainly defend them with strength and determination."

The businessman vs. the doctor

At his news conference, Legault criticized Couillard's economic record, asking why Quebec is dependent on $11 billion a year in federal equalization payments if the province is doing so well.

"Ask yourself the question," Legault said. "Would you prefer a premier who is a doctor or a premier who is a businessman?"

The CAQ leader said Couillard gave Quebec's doctors an extra $1 billion in salary and by investing in Bombardier's C Series, rather that in Bombardier shares, the value of that $1.3 billion now is about half the original amount.

Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault is applauded by caucus members at a news conference marking the end of the National Assembly session, Friday, June 15, Legault is flanked by Genevieve Guilbault, left, and Nathalie Roy, right. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"I humbly submit that I am a better negotiator than Philippe Couillard," he said, adding that Couillard wants to mount a fear campaign against the CAQ.

He promised English-speaking Quebecers he would "never, never hold a referendum on sovereignty" and rejected suggestions he is a businessman like Donald Trump.

"If I was an American I would have voted for Hillary Clinton," Legault said.

"Philippe Couillard will offer fear. We will offer hope."

The underdog

Asked what he thought about the fact neither Legault nor Couillard mentioned him in their end-of-session roundups, Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said, "I love being the underdog."

Lisée said a PQ  government would not be "the first third-place team to win the cup."

He said voters will return to the PQ because his is a party of "straight shooters."

"We think we should put people first," he added, accusing the Liberals and CAQ of talking about cutting spending while investing more for daycare and schools.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, accompanied by his caucus, presents his sum-up of National Assembly business and says the PQ, which has been third in the polls, could still win the Oct. 1 Quebec election. (Cathy Senay/CBC)

Lisée said Legault wanted to be PQ leader and after two failed leadership bids, founded his own party.

PQ voters who are thinking of voting for Legault should take note of his claims to be a proud Canadian, Lisée said, adding that Legault is "insincere."

And Lisée suggested there is an interchangeability between the Liberals and the CAQ. Liberal ministers Gaétan Barrette and Dominique Anglade are former CAQ candidates, while CAQ recruits Geneviève Guilbault and Marguerite Blais are former Liberals. 

Montreal leader in job creation

At his news conference Couillard mentioned a newspaper story Friday suggesting  that in 2017, Montreal had the best job creation record of any major North American urban centre.

​"The economy is doing better and that is important because when the economy is doing well, everything is possible," he said. His Liberals offered Quebecers "a new Quebec that is prosperous and confident."

But he did warn of the looming challenge of a manpower shortage, particularly in Quebec's regions, which could also threaten existing jobs.

"We will not have enough workers unless we act urgently on this," Couillard said, in an apparent challenge to Legault's commitment to reduce immigration.
Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitão shakes hands with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard before presenting his first budget in 2014. Leitão met his goal of balancing the budget in 2015-16. (The Canadian Press)

"The answer cannot be closing our borders," he said. "The answer cannot be rejecting others.

"That would mean a return to unemployment, a return to the deficit, a return to negative growth."

Campaigning in 2014, Couillard promised his would be the most open and transparent government Quebecers had known.

Critics say he has not delivered on that commitment but Couillard insisted, saying his government did present new legislation of access to information.

When reporters pointed out that bill was not adopted, Couillard said that was another reason why he needed a new mandate.

Oct. 1 will be Quebec's first fixed-date election. Close to 20 Liberal ministers and backbenchers will not be running again.

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