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Politics Trudeau hoping to convince former PQ minister to run for Liberals

Réjean Hébert says he is willing to work at the federal level on issues that are dear to his heart, especially health care and the environment.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is courting a former provincial Parti Québécois minister to run for the Liberal Party of Canada in the next federal election as part of an effort to win the support of left-leaning and progressive voters in Quebec on Oct. 21.

Réjean Hébert, who was the minister of health in the PQ government of Pauline Marois from 2012 to 2014, has already met with Mr. Trudeau to discuss his potential candidacy. He will make a final decision whether to run for the Liberals by the end of the month.

In an interview, Mr. Hébert said the quest for Quebec sovereignty is “no longer on the agenda” and that he is willing to work at the federal level on issues that are dear to his heart, especially health care and the environment. A medical doctor who specializes in geriatrics, Mr. Hébert is currently the dean of the school of public health at the University of Montreal.

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If he jumps back into active politics, Mr. Hébert said he would be interested in working on issues such as home care and the prevention of chronic diseases. He added that, in his view, the fight against climate change is also a health issue.

“If I am convinced that I can achieve progress on files like those inside the federal government, I will answer the call,” he said. “I am waiting to see the party’s platform, but if these elements are designated as a priority, I think that I will let myself be tempted.”

Mr. Hébert said he has already discussed his eventual candidacy with Mr. Trudeau and would be seeking another meeting with the Liberal leader before making a final decision.

The Liberal Party won 40 of 78 ridings in Quebec in the last federal election. In order to win a second mandate, the Liberals are counting on winning more seats in the province to offset potential losses in other parts of the country.

To achieve its goal, the Liberal Party will need to win in ridings that are currently held by the NDP or the Bloc Québécois, while holding off any surge in support for the Green Party.

The Liberals have already approached a well-known environmentalist in Quebec, Steven Guilbeault, to run in the Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, which is currently in the hands of the NDP. Mr. Guilbeault will make a final decision whether to run in coming weeks.

Mr. Hébert represented a riding in Quebec’s Eastern Townships for a single mandate at the provincial level between 2012 and 2014. He has yet to decide where he would seek the Liberal nomination if he joins the party, while pointing out that he didn’t hesitate to run in a Liberal stronghold as a PQ candidate in 2008 and 2012.

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Mr. Hébert said he has not felt any resistance in his dealings with Mr. Trudeau because of his past work with the PQ, saying that being a sovereigntist is “not a crime.”

“It’s not because I worked in a sovereignty government that I can’t work to bring about progress in Canada,” he said. "If Canada can put in place measures to deal with an aging population and improve access to home care, prevent chronic diseases and fight against climate change, that will also be good for Quebec.”

He said he feels that under Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal Party embodies the “values and policies” that he would like to defend in a government.

“This is a government that is progressive and that is where I see myself on the political spectrum,” he said. “It’s not a left-wing government, but one that is left of centre.”

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