Couillard nods to sharing economy amid Liberal party tensions

Premier Philippe Couillard has promised to launch a project on the sharing economy, one day after members of his own party expressed their unhappiness with the government's recent Uber bill.

But premier attempts to turn attention to education in convention speech

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the province's English school boards a model for the rest of the province to follow. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Premier Philippe Couillard has promised to launch a project on the sharing economy, one day after members of his own party expressed their unhappiness with the government's recent Uber bill.

Speaking at a Liberal party convention on Sunday, Couillard acknowledged the motion passed by the Liberal's youth wing, which called on the party to be more open to companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Addressing the head of the youth wing, Jonathan Marleau, Couillard said: "Jonathan, you asked for a project on the sharing economy. The answer is yes."

That promise was met with rousing applause by the several hundred Liberal members gathered at a convention centre in Drummondville, Que.

On Saturday, several members of the party had taken to the convention floor to question why the Liberal government had taken such a hard line against Uber.

A bill tabled last week by Transport Minister Jacques Daoust will force drivers using Uber, a popular ride-hailing service, to take out taxi permits. 

Daoust has justified the measures by saying they are necessary for the province to tax the revenues of Uber drivers. Couillard endorsed that line in his speech on Sunday, suggesting the government wasn't backing down from its bill yet. 

"The sharing economy is many things, both present and future," Couillard said. "It is also about companies who are good corporate citizens, who behave with equity and justice, and who own up to their fiscal responsibilities."

In a news conference following his speech, Couillard said the party's project on the social economy wouldn't fundamentally alter the elements of its Uber bill. He promised to announce further details about the project in the coming weeks. 

The party of education

The main thrust of Couillard's speech, however, focused on education. His education minister, Sébastien Proulx, unveiled ambitious plans last week to tackle Quebec's elevated high school dropout rate. 

Couillard reiterated those plans on Sunday, seeking to re-brand the party's image on a file where it has attracted much criticism in the past. 

"We are the party of education. We are the government of education ... I am the premier of education," Couillard.

Among the most high-profile elements of the new reform package is the government's decision to back away from its plan to abolish school-board elections. 

It was a proposal particularly unpopular with the anglophone Quebecers, whose school-board elections typically have higher turnout rates and higher graduation success rates. 

Anglophone school boards had been some of the most vocal opponents of Liberal education policy to date. Couillard reached out to them, suggesting they set an example for the rest of the province. 

"We must say again to our fellow English-speaking Quebecers that the way they conducted their school boards and schools is the way to go for all Quebecers," he said during a lengthy English aside in his speech.