QUEBEC – Philippe Couillard was sworn in as Quebec premier on Wednesday and immediately warned that the time has come for hard economic decisions.
The Liberal premier may feel emboldened in introducing austerity measures after winning 70 of the 125 ridings up for grabs in the April 7 election.
After unveiling his 26-member cabinet, Couillard reeled off a litany of the economic difficulties facing Quebec: a rampant provincial debt that is the highest in the country; the heaviest tax burden; and the highest level of expenditures.
“In a nutshell, we’ve been spending beyond our means for a long time,” Couillard said. “The debt is high. The interest payments (on it) are higher than the budget for the Education Department.
“So we have to act with decisiveness, courage and determination to rectify a situation that represents a threat to the quality of life for current and future generations.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the time for marginal or cosmetic measures has gone. It is time for difficult decisions.”
The man who will make many of these decisions will be new Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, a former chief economist with the Laurentian Bank.
Leitao, a political rookie, will likely table a budget in the coming weeks.
The cabinet has eight women, including new deputy premier Lise Theriault, who will also serve as public security minister.
The government also has a decidedly medical bent, with three doctors occupying key positions.
Firstly there’s neurosurgeon Couillard. Then there’s Health Minister Gaetan Barrette, a radiologist who until the election campaign was head of the federation representing specialist doctors.
Rounding out the trio is general practitioner and former health minister Yves Bolduc, who will head the Education Department.
Between them, Barrette and Bolduc will oversee 75 per cent of the Quebec budget.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Couillard should be premier for more than four years because the next general election is set for October 2018.