In tears at a press conference on Wednesday, long-time Québec Liberal MNA François Ouimet accused Quebec premier Philippe Couillard of breaking his word.
Ouimet, MNA for the Montreal Liberal riding of Marquette, stated that the premier had promised to sign his candidate nomination papers. Instead, Ouimet was given 24 hours’ notice that ex-hockey player Enrico Ciccone would replace him as Liberal candidate for the riding.
The politics behind the decision to replace Ouimet
François Ouimet first assumed office in 1994, making him the most senior member of Québec’s National Assembly. However, with this dismissal, François Legault–leader of the front-running Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)– would become the elder of the assembly.
Founded in 2011 by Legault, the CAQ has been attempting to embody political change in order to dethrone the Liberals, who have governed Québec nearly without pause since 2003 (the exception being the Parti Québecois minority government of 2012-2014). Before founding the CAQ, Legault was elected as MNA for the Parti Québecois in 1998 before leaving the party in 2009.
Liberal strategists hoped that Ouimet’s dismissal would allow them to paint Legault as an “old politician,” an etiquette usually assigned to the long-reigning Liberals.
The move, however, has backfired. Ouimet’s press conference, where he emotionally claimed that the premier had broken his word, represents an enormous political headache for Couillard.
The president of the Liberal association of Marquette, Patrick Carroll, has publicly sided with Ouimet, stating that he “cannot work” for the premier. “I’ve lost enough respect [for him].”
Several other members of the association have refused to work with Couillard, despite claiming to still be members of the party. These would be the same volunteers that Enrico Ciccone–the new Liberal Party candidate–would need to win the riding again for the October 1 election.
Couillard’s public image has been tarnished by the affair. Accused of breaking the trust of a loyal party deputy, rivals of the premier will undoubtedly use the event to target Couillard’s integrity.
With the provincial election campaign beginning on August 23, the consequences of Ouimet’s press conference will likely damage Couillard’s chances for re-election as premier of a majority Liberal government.