TORONTO – Rookie Liberal leader Philippe Couillard is a former neurosurgeon and teacher who rose through the ranks of the Quebec Liberal Party to join then-Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet after being elected in 2003.
During the 2014 election campaign, the former health minister has emerged as one of the most openly federalist Quebec politicians in decades.
“We are Quebecers first but we are also proud to belong to the Canadian federation,” he has said. “But beyond the numbers and the billions, it’s first and foremost for us the choice of a model of citizenship that is the envy of the entire planet.”
Couillard, who speaks fluent English, raised eyebrows when he suggested during a recent election debate that while the language law must be enforced, bilingualism is also a useful skill.
The Montreal-born politician received his medical degree at age 22 and was named chief surgeon at Montreal’s St. Luc Hospital by 32.
At 45, he helped co-found Saudi Arabia’s Dhahran Department of Neurosurgery.
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The 56-year-old was considered a rising star in the Quebec political scene but left politics in 2008 and later founded a consulting business with alleged fraudster Arthur Porter.
But the firm never got off the ground, according to documents Couillard recently released.
Couillard has since distanced himself from Porter, who is now facing fraud charges in connection with the construction of the Montreal English-language hospital. Porter has denied any wrongdoing.
After a break from politics, Couillard was elected Liberal leader in 2013 and subsequently won a by-election in the riding of Outremont.
During this election, he ran in the riding of Roberval, where he resides. The riding is known for flipping frequently from one party to another since its creation in 1931. Roberval’s residents are of predominantly French-speaking Quebecois heritage.
Couillard is married to Suzanne Pilote. The couple has five children.
With files from Leslie Young and The Canadian Press