It is pretty rare that we see the Premier of Quebec come to speak in the City of Côte Saint-Luc. But this finally did occur on May 12 as Philippe Couillard addressed a standing room only crowd at our Aquatic and Community Centre on Parkhaven Avenue.
Credit is due to our incredible Men`s Club and of course the Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum, who made this happen. As event emcee and District 2 resident Sidney Margles pointed out that when Couillard was just the new Quebec Liberal Party leader he was slated to address this same group at the urging of Birnbaum`s predecessor, Lawrence Bergman. Something came up at the last minute and his appearance had to be cancelled. The Men’s Club has 560 members and counting.
This time everything worked out just fine. The Men`s Club began distributing reserved tickets a few weeks ago. When I arrived, there was a strong police presence around the building. Couillard did get to the ACC a little late and like a born campaigner he entered the room by shaking as many hands as possible.
One thing I must say about our Premier, who by profession was a former professor and neurosurgeon. He speaks both languages so beautifully. While many of us are upset with the significant budget cuts we incurred early in the Liberal mandate and the gutting of the health system, Couillard has this audience eating out of his hands from the get go. He began with some humour, alluding to the massive flooding in different parts of Quebec and the fact he decided to visit an aquatic center. He drew applause immediately when he announced “I will do this speech in English so we can all follow.” He also introduced Greg Kelley, son of Native Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley, as his new point person for Quebec's English-speaking community. “Anglophone liaison officer,” is the exact title. I met Kelley after the talk. He’s 31 and presently bunking with his parents in Beaconsfield. He formerly worked in the office of government House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier.
Couillard drew cheers again when he previewed his upcoming trade mission to Israel. “This will be my third trip there. It is the first time a Quebec Premier has gone.” More than 100 Quebec business persons and leaders will accompany him. “Why are we doing this?” Couillard asked rhetorically. “Israel is a start-up nation and an example to follow.”
Couillard mentioned the fact that both Air Canada and Air Transat have direct flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv. He also laughed that when he is in Israel, so will controversial US President Donald Trump.
“Since elected our government is doing exactly like we said we’d do; putting our financial house in order.”
The Premier gave a ringing endorsement for federalism. “Some people are telling me that I cannot be a Quebecer and Canadian. We will stand tall for a strong Quebec within Canada.”
Couillard expressed pride about his government’s job creation program. He also pointed to the investments made at the Jewish General Hospital. “This is a hospital that serves all communities,” he said. “My (late) father was treated there in oncology. So was Mr. Parizeau”
Couillard asked, “How do we build our economy in such an unstable world?” He referred to the three pillars: advance manufacturing, exports and entrepreneurship. “You need a strong educational system to build a proper economy,” he said.
Couillard spoke very excitingly about the planned 67-kilometre, $6 billion electric-train system which will connect downtown Montreal with the South Shore, Deux-Montagnes, the West Island and Trudeau airport. “This will be the equivalent of Expo ’67 in 2017,” he said.
Rather than a straight question and answer period, Margles said that members were asked to submit queries. From the 40 or so obtained, he chose to share a few with the Premier related to assisted living for seniors, the availability of family doctors, special needs children, the sale of marijuana and the Quebec Electoral Commission’s decision to merge the Outremont and Mont Royal ridings and change the boundaries of D’Arcy McGee.
Couillard said that he turns 60 in June so he is sensitive to issues related to seniors. “We are devoting significant dollars to seniors,” he acknowledged. “We have many more doctors than we did before – hundreds of new physicians and they are staying in Quebec.”
As for access to family physicians, Couillard said that right now there are 600,000 people more who have this option compared to 2014.
Turning to the sale of marijuana, which will become legal in Canada in July 2018. “An easy thing for me to say that at first glance I think there is merit to the idea,” said Couillard. “It is now controlled by the black market. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. My biggest concern is public health. Smoking pot is probably not good for your lungs. Young people now are smoking a product that is much worse than the hippy days.”
Couillard also wished to clear up a myth that the province is going to make a lot of money on this. “If to price it too high you will send people back to the black market,” he remarked. “If you price it too low, you will increase consumption.”
As reported in The Suburban, Couillard explained that it was decided years ago to enable the independent, non-partisan Quebec Electoral Commission to decide on riding changes "to remove petty politics and partisanship from the issue. The only way for us to act on [riding changes considered to be unjust] is to change the criteria on which the commission bases itself to make decisions, and for this we need to change electoral law. I'm not ruling this out. We're going to have significant discussions. I know legal recourse has been tabled by the community here on this, and people should exercise their rights. That's something that should be done."
Mayor Brownstein concluded proceedings by thanking the Premier for coming to Côte Saint-Luc and particularly the ACC, which the provincial government contributed one-third of the cost.
Also on hand for Couillard’s speech were provincial cabinet ministers Kathlee Weil, Pierre Arcand and Francine Charbonneau, Mount Royal Liberal Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, CSL councillors Sam Goldbloom, Ruth Kovac, Allan J. Levine, Dida Berku and myself and English Montreal School Board Commissioner Bernard Praw.