March 16, 2018 4:30 pm
Updated: March 16, 2018 4:52 pm

Quebec premier says he doesn’t think CAQ leader is racist

WATCH ABOVE: Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard responds to questions about whether he thinks Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader François Legault is racist.

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When asked directly Friday afternoon if he thought the CAQ leader was racist, Premier Philippe Couillard answered, “I would never say that about anyone.”

It might be the closest thing CAQ Leader François Legault gets to a Liberal apology after Finance Minister Carlos Leitao was quoted saying the CAQ promoted an “ethnic-based nationalism.”

READ MORE: Quebec Liberals won’t apologize for accusing CAQ of ‘ethnic-based nationalism’

The comments caused a firestorm during Thursday’s question period at the National Assembly as the Liberals rallied around the finance minister and refused to issue an apology.

On Friday, the premier, while not backing down on the comments, did soften his tone. He refused to repeat the phrase “ethnic nationalism” or elaborate on Leitao’s earlier comments.

“I leave Mr. Legault with his ideas. He seems to like to talk a lot about these issues,” he said, adding, “I’m asking very simple questions, the right questions. He wants to be premier, so he should answer.”

Couillard’s questions concern two CAQ policies. The first is their plan to lower immigration levels despite a problematic labour shortage. The second is about their proposal to admit immigrants only if they’ve passed a values test, even though the CAQ has never unveiled what questions would be on that test.

On Thursday, an impassioned immigration minister, David Heurtel, voiced his fears with a so-called values test for immigrants: “Who decides who’s a real Quebecer and who’s not a real Quebecer, based on what?”

READ MORE: Quebec political parties can’t agree on chadors in schools

On Friday, Couillard accused the CAQ leader of back-pedalling on issues when it suits him politically.

“I believe and I see that he changes his opinion very very often,” Couillard said.

When asked if he thought the CAQ actively promotes ethnic nationalism and if he thought that Legault’s ideas were dangerous, the premier replied:

“I’m not going to be paternalistic with Quebecers. They are educated enough, intelligent enough, to make up their own minds. The only thing I’m doing is asking questions,” he said.

Quebec City Tramway

The premier was speaking at a joint announcement with Quebec City Mayor, Regis Labeaume for a proposed $3-billion tramway system in Quebec City. Couillard joked in French that this announcement was another reason for Quebec City residents to vote Liberal.

When asked to elaborate in English, the premier said, “I wasn’t joking, I was pretty serious actually,” which garnered laughter from the room.

READ MORE: François Legault and the CAQ surge ahead in polls

The CAQ, which has been surging ahead of the Liberals in the polls for the last few months, has a lot of support in the Quebec City region.

The premier said the tramway project is much more important than a political strategy to seduce voters.

“There’s no way we could keep Quebec City, our capital, without a high level of public transit,” he said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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