Couillard supporters in home riding cheer majority win for Quebec Liberals
SAINT-FELICIEN, Que. - Philippe Couillard's supporters were still trickling into party headquarters Monday when the news broke that the Quebec Liberals had won the election in resounding fashion.
Supporters in Couillard's riding in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region north of Quebec City bellowed their approval as they watched a convincing Liberal majority take shape just 18 months after they tasted defeat in 2012.
Louise Veillette, who volunteered on Couillard's behalf in the riding of Roberval, said she sensed the Liberal leader began to connect with voters about a week into the campaign.
"He's smart and he knows his files from A to Z," said Veillette, a 75-year-old from Saint-Felicien.
"We're very proud of him. He ran in the regions and he's going to work in the regions."
It's a result few could have predicted a month ago.
When the Parti Quebecois called the election, they were riding high in the polls, prompting many political analysts to predict they would come out on top — perhaps even with a majority of their own.
But Couillard made inroads by framing the vote as a choice between the Liberal priorities of health care and economy on one hand, and the threat of another referendum under the PQ on the other.
He hammered away relentlessly at PQ Leader Pauline Marois for her murky position on when and if she would call another sovereignty vote.
Couillard, meanwhile, had to confront attacks from all sides on questions of ethics and corruption, but nothing seemed to stick.
A former minister under Jean Charest, he represents a departure from his old boss in both style and substance.
Couillard emerged during the campaign as a passionate defender of Canadian federalism, at times going even further than Charest as he made the case for national unity. And unlike his fiery Liberal predecessor, Couillard is known for a calm, intellectual approach to problem-solving.
He also took a strong stance on bilingualism during the campaign — a thorny issue in Quebec, given the importance the province places on protecting the French language.