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March 22, 2013

New leader's political brain surgery

The new leader of the Quebec Liberal party is offering a gift for Canada’s 150th anniversary, coming up in 2017.

Philippe Couillard won the job on the weekend by handily defeating two fellow former ministers in the government of Jean Charest. In September, the Liberals lost narrowly to the separatist Parti Quebecois led by Pauline Marois.

Charest, who lost his own Sherbrooke seat, resigned and the race to replace him was on.

Couillard, 55, a neurosurgeon in his pre-political life, had served as health minister from 2003 to 2008 but left to pursue other interests. Wagging tongues suggested he and Charest had had a falling out and that Couillard would wait on the sidelines for his chance to succeed him.

Now that Couillard has command of one of the most successful political machines in the country — ruling the province for most of the period dating back to 1885 — he appears determined to take it in a direction his predecessor dared not go (for good reason).

On the morning after his victory, Couillard reiterated a pledge that did not get much play during the leadership campaign. He said he would like to see Quebec sign the Canadian Constitution in time for the big sesquicentennial birthday party four years hence.

For readers puzzled by the fact that Quebec has not inked the fundamental covenant of the nation, I am afraid there is no such thing as a simple explanation. But we can try. Here goes:

In 1980, the Parti Quebecois government held a referendum on secession. Then-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau entered the battle, promising Quebecers constitutional reform in exchange for a “no” vote.

The no side won convincingly, and Trudeau launched a full-blown constitutional revamp, including a charter of rights. At the last minute, then-Quebec Premier Rene Levesque refused to sign a deal he says some fellow premiers had cooked up behind his back.

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