Philippe Couillard is a brain surgeon, not a psychiatrist, so his expertise is not necessarily understanding the collective mind of Quebecers.
Couillard, now the leader of the Quebec Liberal party, has 33 days or less to make his diagnosis and offer voters the kind of treatment that he hopes will get him elected as the next premier of Quebec.
The April 7 election comes two weeks shy of a year since the 56-year-old former neurosurgeon and health minister under the previous Liberal government easily won the leadership of the strongly federalist party.
He replaced the affable and wily Jean Charest who, after nine years as premier, lost a squeaker to the separatist Parti Quebecois under Pauline Marois in September 2012.
Marois pulled the plug on her 18-month-old government on Wednesday in a bid for a majority government that she hopes will allow her the time and power to sell Quebecers on the PQ’s dream of an independent French-speaking state in North America.
Despite his impressive curriculum vitae as a doctor and a relatively successful (but brief) stint as a minister, Couillard has not exactly lit up the electorate, according to recent polls. Though Marois is sometimes mocked for her affluent lifestyle, despite her humble beginnings, Couillard seems to have an even harder time playing the commoner card.
A recent in-depth profile of Couillard by the magazine L’actualité, describes him touring an underground mine and asking if the workers minded if he tried his hand at the diamond drill. When they hesitated, he said, with a laugh, “I’ve already drilled into brains, I should be able to do it with rock.”
If he hopes to return the Liberals to power, Couillard will need to drill into at least some of the bedrock of PQ support in the province, in the ridings in the nearly homogeneously French-speaking regions remote from Montreal.