Former Quebec Health Minister Phillippe Couillard said the success of English school boards like the Lester B. Pearson School Board in retaining and graduating its students must be held up as a model to other boards across the province and took a few shots at the new Parti Quebecois government on the Quebec Liberal Party leadership trail last week.
"(English boards') performance in terms of administration and budget is quite good," he said. "What they do is an example that can be spread to other parts of Quebec," he said, adding future governments should consider the idea of funding based on success rates.
"That level of performance should be taken into account when budget decisions are made," Couillard said.
Couillard, who entered politics in 2003 after a decorated career as a surgeon and was first elected when Jean Charest's Liberals swept into power in Quebec City that year, was the health minister under Charest from 2003 to 2008, when he resigned his seat and his ministerial portfolio, and spent a few years out of politics before jumping into the provincial Liberal race last fall, automatically jumping into a front-runner role alongside fellow Charest cabinet members Raymond Bachand and Pierre Moreau when he announced his candidacy. The former neurosurgeon said bringing West Island federalists and anglophones back under the Liberal banner is a must for the party.
"There's no way to hide from the fact that the Liberal Party has taken Anglophones for granted. We absolutely have to include them in our conversation. We are building our next political platform and federalism is a central part of that. Anglophones are a central part of Quebec life and we have to give them a sense of belonging," he said.
Couillard said if he wins the leadership of the party, which will be decided March 17, he won't make a dramatic shift away from his predecessor.
"Globally, (Charest's) record is very positive," Couillard said, lauding the Plan Nord, Charest's work on free trade and his support of the environment as examples of good leadership. Where he would differ slightly, he said, would be in the application of fiscal policies.
"We have seen some contradictory elements in the fiscal system. Businesses are concerned," Couillard said, adding he would begin "a comprehensive review all fiscal policies as a tool for economic development."
Certain elements of the Parti Quebecois' recent cuts to education are also of concern to Couillard, whose last posting before going into politics in 2003 was at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke. Cuts to three key research funds are galling to Couillard, who believes strongly in the value of innovation.
"These cuts are happening in the wrong place at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons," he said, adding that if he wins the leadership, the Train de l'Ouest project would be among his priorities for Montreal Island. Incidentally, Train de l'Ouest committee co-chair Clifford Lincoln is chief among the list of impressive supporters that have backed Couillard publicly recently, along with former Quebec education minister Pierre Reid and former agriculture minister Pierre Corbeil.
"The PQ talks a lot about the east end of Montreal, but there's a big need in the west, too," he said, adding the project should include both a commuter-train line offering service to and from the city at regular intervals all day long and a dedicated airport shuttle.
Trying to decide between a commuter-train line and airport shuttle is "a false debate. There should be a way of combining both services. With the Turcot redevelopment, there needs to be an attractive alternative for people," than their cars, Couillard said.