Following a blowout election loss to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in a previously safe seat last week and with electoral uncertainty growing despite strong economic indicators ahead of next fall’s provincial election, Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard undertook a large-scale shakeup of his cabinet yesterday. He promoted four members from the backbench, shuffled a number of senior ministers and created a new portfolio in the Minister responsible for Anglophone Affairs. He also grew the overall size of the Cabinet from 25 to 30. Despite the large number of moves taking place, a large portion of the front bench has remained intact as the Liberals prepare for the home stretch of their mandate.
A trio of first term MNAs received promotion to Cabinet in the shuffle. First-term Pontiac MNA Andre Fortin, in what was widely seen as the surprise of the shuffle, was named to the Transportation portfolio where he will be tasked with handling Uber’s response to the Provinces new regulations around ride-sharing. Fortin takes over from Laurent Lessard who remains as Agriculture Minister. Crémazie MNA Marie Monpetit was appointed the new Minister of Culture and Communications. Isabelle Melançon, a longtime party stalwart and former staffer prior to her election in last year’s Verdun by-election continues to see her star rise following appointment as the Minister of Environment. Stéphane Billette, the three-term MNA from Huntingdon, and former Chief Government Whip, has also been promoted becoming the new Minister of Small and Medium Businesses.
On the move
Swapping portfolios are two high-ranking Ministers in Pierre Arcand moving to Treasury Board while Pierre Moreau now takes the helm at Energy and Natural Resources. Moreau, who finished in second place behind Couillard during the 2013 Liberal leadership race, is seen as a capable pair of hands and previously served as Municipal Affairs Minister as well as a stint at Education before taking time away for most of 2016 due to illness. Sherbrooke MNA Luc Fortin is moving from Culture and Communications to the Families and Seniors portfolio.
Long-time Notre-Dame-de-Grâce MNA Kathleen Weil, previously the Province’s Immigration Minister, moves to the newly created secretariat for Anglo Affairs to address longstanding feelings of underrepresentation within Quebec’s English speaking minority, though the details on the Department’s creation and structure have yet to be fully mapped out. The move comes at a time when many in Quebec political and media circles have speculated that the Liberals longstanding stranglehold on Anglo support across the Province could be vulnerable to the CAQ. The Premier touched on the issue directly in his remarks at the National Assembly speaking to all Quebec Anglophones that "This is your home".
Weil is also taking on the responsibilities of the Minister for Access to Information and Democratic Reform from Rita de Santis who was the lone demotion of the shuffle. Ms. de Santis has stated her intention to remain as an MNA. David Heurtel moves from Environment to take Weil’s place at Immigration where he will now be tasked with overseeing the Department’s inquiry into systemic racism.
Despite the large number of moves made elsewhere on the roster, Premier Couillard has retained the core of his front bench keeping his most senior ministers in key portfolios during the home stretch, those include: Gaetan Barrett at Health, Carlos Leitão at Finance, Sebastian Proulx at Education, Stephanie Vallée at Justice, Martin Coiteux at Municipal Affairs and Jean-Marc Fournier remaining Government House Leader as well as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Dominique Anglade remained in her portfolio as Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade but was also newly named Deputy Premier.
Onward to 2018
Couillard spoke with confidence and campaign style rhetoric as he introduced what will likely be the final incarnation of his Government prior to the election, putting an emphasis on economic issues by stating "Our team took Quebec's economy from the dog house to the power house,". The Liberals will spend the next 11 months pushing that message against charges from the opposition parties that they are corrupt, out of touch and overwhelmed. The success of the newly minted cabinet will be largely determined by which message Quebecers buy at election time.