Quebec Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard

Already a brain surgeon, former university professor and ex-provincial health minister, Philippe Couillard’s impressive resumé was most recently topped with leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.
Philippe Couillard left politics for five years and worked in the private sector before returning to run for Liberal party leadership.

Already a brain surgeon, former university professor and ex-provincial health minister, Philippe Couillard’s impressive resumé was most recently topped with leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.

However, it remains to be seen just how his leadership of the struggling party will translate into votes.

Couillard’s biggest challenge may be keeping the public’s attention on the economy, while the Parti Québécois pushes hard to make cultural identity the key issue in this election.

His “Philippe-flop” — a term coined by columnists and picked up by political adversaries — on his party’s values charter stance had many pointing out what appeared to be blatant contradictions. 

Philippe Couillard salutes supporters after the results are announced from the first ballot vote at the party's convention in March 2013. (Ryan Remiorz/ Canadian Press)

In September, Couillard publicly declared the legislation would pass “over my dead body.”

In January, the Liberals issued their own charter proposal that supports the banning of some, but not all, religious garments for people working in the public sector.  That stand – coupled with the very public breakup with longtime Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin over her pro-secularism position  — left both the party’s supporters and detractors confused.

"People criticized me for not moving quickly, but I wanted to take my time to study the issues and form my opinion and so I accepted the criticism," Couillard said in January.

“It’s not black and white like the PQ is telling you.”

Public service, private sector

Couillard, 56, was born in Montreal and received a medical degree from the University of Montreal in 1979.

Philippe Couillard is sworn in after winning his first election in 2003. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

He was chief of neurosurgery at St-Luc Hospital for three years before co-founding the neurosurgery service in Dhahan, Saudi Arabia. He returned to Canada in 1996 and taught at the University of Sherbooke while serving as the director of the department of surgery of the Centre hospitalieruniversitairedeSherbrooke

In 2003, he dipped his toes into politics for the first time, winning the Mont-Royal riding for the Liberals. Charest named Couillard health minister soon after the election.

Couillard held the health portfolio until 2008, when he left politics to join Persistence Capital Partners (PCP), a private equity fund that focuses on health services.

He was criticized by some for negotiating the terms of his private-sector employment while he was still a cabinet minister.

Couillard later said there was never any conflict of interest but admitted he could have explained his decision better.

Leadership race

After five years out of politics, he threw his hat back in the ring for Liberal leadership after Jean Charest lost his own riding and stepped down as head of the party.

"I feel the need to serve. I could feel this big wave of desire in me to serve again," Couillard said at the time.

Couillard's friendship with Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Centre who left Montreal last year amid controversy and now faces criminal charges, haunted Couillard throughout the leadership campaign.

However, he was largely able to escape the stain on Charest’s last cabinet and its role in the student crisis simply because he wasn’t in the caucus at the time.

Couillard beat out former finance minister Raymond Bachand and former transport minister Pierre Moreau on the first ballot for the top job in March 2013.

It would be eight more months before he had a seat in the national assembly.

Couillard was elected in the Outremont riding vacated by Bachand, who left politics, in December.

He is a father of three and is married to Suzanne Pilote