Montreal·Analysis

Quebec, Philippe Couillard and the next prime minister

Philippe Couillard sent all party leaders a list of priorities for Quebecers. Where do they see eye-to-eye? And where could they encounter problems?

French-language debate tonight will show Quebecers what the leaders commit to doing for them

All three party leaders are seen during Thursday night's debate on the economy in a composite image. (Canadian Press)

With polls indicating a three-way race for Oct. 19, the outcome of the federal election is unpredictable at best.

Premier Philippe Couillard wants to know the next prime minister's — whomever that may be — position on key files close to Quebec's heart. So he sent each party leader a letter outlining the main issues the province is facing.

After the French-language debate Thursday night, we may get a better sense of how Quebec figures into federal plans.

Couillard and the Conservatives' Stephen Harper

Both men share a similar determination for cleaning up public finances and balancing their budgets. So on that score, they appear to be of one mind.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard wrote a letter to each federal party leader asking for their positions on issues close to Quebec's heart. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

But there are a few issues that will come up after election day where tough negotiations will need to happen to get them on the same page.

Climate change is one of those.

Quebec is taking a leading role, recently setting the most ambitious target in Canada for greenhouse gas reduction. The province feels the Conservative government has dragged its feet in the fight and has not invested enough in green technology.

But Harper and his party believe the opposite to be true. Since 2006, the party says the Conservative government has invested $1 billion a year in green technology, plus a $350 million grant for Quebec's Green Plan in 2007. 

The other issue: how health care is funded.

Quebec wants the federal government to increase funding based on "demographic realities," rather than population size. The premier is mainly talking about the pressure placed on the system by a growing old-age population.

That's a different view of how to address the funding dilemma than the Conservatives have had in the past. In 2011, former finance minister Jim Flaherty announced future funding increases will be tied to nominal GDP growth, which could actually end up as a decrease in funding. Right now, funding rises six per cent a year.

Couillard and the NDP's Tom Mulcair

The two are former colleagues who have a cordial relationship after cutting their teeth as ministers in Jean Charest's cabinet at the National Assembly. They both have an eye on balancing budgets, and are also on the same page on climate change and the environment.

However, the relationship could get complicated. Mulcair's voter base is Quebec, which means he will have to be careful with the province and pay special attention to Quebecers. This could leave the premier with a strong bargaining chip.

On the Senate, Couillard opposes getting rid of the upper chamber, a key plank of the NDP's campaign platform. On Mulcair's promise for a million daycare spots at $15 a day, Couilllard says there would need to be negotiations on opting out with compensation because of the provincial daycare program already in place.

Couillard and the Liberals' Justin Trudeau

On Senate reform, the two on are on the same side — neither wants to drag the country into gruelling constitutional talks. Trudeau's $125-billion infrastructure promise should also catch the attention of Quebec's premier — it's something he's been calling for since his election last year.

But the relationship between a Trudeau government and Quebec could be tricky. The Liberal campaign has chosen to turn its attention on Ontario voters as the ones who could sweep it into power, all but ceding Quebec ridings to the NDP. 

A lot of Trudeau's entourage also hails from the most populous province, and Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne is actively campaigning for her federal cousin. That would make the relationship between Couillard and Trudeau tricky because Quebec's priorities would always be up against Ontario's, the place that can take credit if the Liberal leader takes the country's top job.

About the Author

Ryan Hicks is a third-year law student at McGill University and a former Quebec political correspondent for the CBC. In 2018, he won the Amnesty International Media Award for his reporting from Guatemala about the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.

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