In an emotional speech, Philippe Couillard stepped down as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party in a meeting Thursday with elected and defeated candidates.
He has also given up his seat in the National Assembly as MNA-elect of Roberval.
Couillard became premier in 2014 and served one mandate before his Liberals were swept from office Monday by Francois Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec.
“I’m leaving Quebec in a way better shape that what I found it in 2014,” Couillard said.
During his speech, he addressed English-speaking Quebecers.
“English-speaking Quebecers have now a stronger voice and a better connection within the government: a well-funded secretariat along with a minister dedicated to defending and representing their interests, because we are all first-class Quebecers,” Couillard said. “I want you to know I did not do this for short-term electoral reasons but because of a profound belief in a truly inclusive Quebec.”
Watch above: Philippe Couillard talks about immigration in his speech
Couillard also talked about immigration, one day after premier-elect Francois Legault vowed to use the notwithstanding clause, if necessary, to uphold a proposal to prohibit some state employees from wearing religious symbols, including garments like the Jewish kippa and Muslim hijab.
“Immigrants who will fulfill the many available jobs are not a threat to our distinct character. They’re essential to our growth. It’s our responsibility to help them integrate to our society,” Couillard said. “Each gesture counts.”
As for his future, Couillard said he and his wife will now have more time to spend with their children and grandchildren.
Thanking his wife for her generosity and love, Couillard broke down in tears. His wife hugged him through tears of her own.
Watch above: Philippe Couillard gets emotional as he thanks his wife for her support
The Liberal caucus will meet Friday to begin the process of naming an interim leader and set the groundwork for an eventual leadership race.
Gaetan Barrette, who was minister of health in the Liberal government, has already signalled his intention to seek the leadership, the Canadian Press has learned.
When the legislature was dissolved in August, the Liberals held 68 of 125 seats. After Monday, they hold just 32, and their 25 per cent share of the popular vote was their worst result ever.
–With files from Global’s Gloria Henriquez