Philippe Couillard admits the Liberal party needs to rebuild support among both students and the anglophone community, in the wake of his party’s defeat last September.
Couillard, who is running to replace Jean Charest as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, was in Dorion Friday morning to meet with media after receiving the endorsement from area MNA, Yvon Marcoux.
Over the spring and summer, many groups marched in the street against the government’s plan to increase tuition fees, and the protests took on a general tone of frustration against the government.
Couillard blamed the previous government for part of the crisis, saying it didn’t help that the Parti Québécois government froze fees in the 1990s.
“If we had just indexed it to inflation year after year, that would have done the trick,” he said, adding that the movement didn’t represent most students in Quebec.
“Let’s not exaggerate,” he said. “The majority of students were in class.”
That being said, Couillard said the Liberal Party’s message doesn’t seem to be getting through to a significant segment of the youth.
“Certainly, bridges have to be rebuilt with this segment,” he said. “I think we have to be much more active in the use of social media. This is how the youth communicates now. We’re doing it, but I think we can be a lot more proactive.”
As for the anglophone community, Couillard said the party must distinguish itself from the PQ government and its policies of promoting the French language to the detriment of the English community.
“Anglophones are an essential part of the fabric of our society, because this community has built Quebec side-by-side with francophones. Pledging not to extend Bill 101, protecting the institutions like the school boards and hospitals, all these are positive gestures that will show that we do care for the anglophone community.”
He added that the PQ’s pledge to extend the provisions of Bill 101 to CEGEPs, which would bar non-anglophones from English institutions would do a disservice not just to allophones and anglophones, but to French-speaking Quebecers who want to become fluent in English. And extending the French charter to small businesses would be bad for the economy.
Couillard, who returns after spending four years in the private sector, said with the revelations coming from the Charbonneau commission looking at corruption in politics, and Charest’s recent troubles with students, it is a difficult time to be in politics.
“It’s not easy, but maybe because of this we need to make the effort.”
Couillard is one of three candidates in the running to replace Charest former finance minster Raymond Bachand and former transport minister Pierre Moreau are the other two. The leader will be chosen in a vote held March 16-17 in Montreal. The campaign will included five debates, including one in English.