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Fresh faces expected in Couillard’s Quebec cabinet

Opposition MLA Bernard Drainville gestures to applauds as PQ members are sworn in, Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. MLA Pierre Karl Peladeau, right, looks on.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec's opposition parties say they will hold Philippe Couillard to his word when he unveils the cabinet that will implement the Liberals' campaign promise to shore up a staggering economy and shaky public finances.

Senior economic portfolios are expected to go to some Liberals who are political neophytes but have experience in the private sector. Mr. Couillard is under pressure to avoid appointing people who might be considered too close to the government of his Liberal predecessor, Jean Charest, and allegations of corruption in provincial contracts.

Carlos Leitao worked in finance and banking, and some consider him to be one of Canada's top economists. He is viewed as a frontrunner for the finance portfolio, as is Martin Coiteux, a former senior consultant at the Bank of Canada who demonstrated skill as a debater during the election campaign.

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Jacques Daoust is also from the banking sector, and was president and chief executive officer of Investissement Quebec, the government's venture capital agency.

Parti Québécois interim leader Stéphane Bédard said the Liberals promised to balance the budget within two years and will have no excuse for not doing so. The PQ budget in February planned to reach that goal by the end of 2015-2016.

"The solutions can be found in the last budget we tabled. Our numbers are solid. There is no reason for them not to meet their commitment," Mr. Bedard told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony for the 30 PQ members.

Health and social services spending represents nearly 45 per cent of the government's total budget, and Gaétan Barette, former president of the Quebec federation of medical specialists, is a strong contender to manage that portfolio. Dr. Barette ran for the CAQ in 2012, and was once one of the Liberals' most vocal critics. Now, he might have to revamp the cash-strapped ministry by renegotiating the generous pay increases he helped obtain for specialists when he was at the federation. He got a $1.2-million severance package after left the organization.

Still dazed by the trouncing it received on April 7, the PQ returns to the opposition benches after only 18 months in government. Mr. Bédard insisted the PQ government was not defeated because of its record.

"Our record was solid and wasn't criticized. … But from the outset, the campaign was about a word in particular and then quickly deviated," he said, a reference to "referendum," which he himself seemed reluctant to pronounce on Tuesday. The PQ's ambiguous position on whether it would hold a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty is believed to have driven many voters to the Liberals.

"At the PQ there are no 'referendists.' We face the challenge of having to talk to the population and explain that our goal isn't to hold a vote. Our goal is to help Quebec move forward," Mr. Bédard said.

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After the PQ ceremony, the 22 members of the Coalition Avenir Québec were sworn in. Leader François Legault urged Mr. Couillard to adopt a secular charter that unites Quebeckers rather than divides them, as many believed the PQ's had done.

"Let us not allow this emotional issue to drag on, which has become a source of tension, detrimental to Quebec society," Mr. Legault said. The CAQ leader reminded the Liberals that they have been in power almost continuously since 2003 and were largely responsible the province's economic difficulties.

"The new government would be ill-advised to blame past actions to explain its inability to meet its promises. If the government acts in good faith with rigour and competence, it will have our support. But if it fails, it will have only itself to blame," Mr. Legault said.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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