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Government & policy

Quebec health minister resigns, Bolduc appointed

QUEBEC CITY – Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s health minister since 2003, has resigned from the Charest government, saying he is leaving politics. The government announced that Yves Bolduc, (pictured), a medical doctor who was defeated as a Liberal candidate in the 2007 election in his home Lac-Saint-Jean riding, would succeed Couillard both as minister and in a by-election as MNA for Quebec City’s Jean-Talon riding.

Couillard is a neurosurgeon, who was also a hospital administrator before he entered politics just before the 2003 election. He was first elected in the Montreal riding of Mont-Royal.

He said he entered public service because he felt it was his duty as one who had received much, and he thanked Charest for trusting to a political neophyte the pivotal health portfolio.

Couillard said he plans to do a lot of fishing this summer and has no new job lined up. But he said in his career he has often changed jobs and his criteria for his next job is what he can learn.

There was some speculation in the Quebec press that Couillard had ambitions to be the next premier of the province. However, with the popularity of Jean Charest currently enjoying an uptick, that appears unlikely to happen in the near future.

Couillard said as health minister he had nothing else to do, although he admitted the system is not perfect and new measures are needed. And he expressed the hope his successor would do better than he did.

Asked if the job he really wanted was Charest’s job, Couillard said he was always loyal to his leader.

As the new health minister, Bolduc, 51, faces a number of challenges: dealing with public concerns over wait lists for surgeries; striking a balance between public and private health care; the construction of Montreal’s two super-hospitals; and controlling his ministry’s spending, 40 per cent of the Quebec budget.

Bolduc said he was moved when the premier called on him to replace Couillard. He admitted there are problems with the public-private partnerships process being used to build Montreal’s two new teaching hospitals, but said he wants to work them out. We’re going to try to have the best of everything, he said.

Bolduc, a native of Alma, is a physician, having worked as a general practitioner and a coroner. He also has graduate degrees in management and bioethics. At the Hôtel Dieu Hospital in Alma, he used Toyota management techniques – which he summed up as common sense – to reduce wait times for surgery.

He has not, however, been as successful in politics. He was defeated when he ran for the Liberals in the 2007 election in his home riding, Lac-Saint-Jean. He will now seek election to the National Assembly in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon, left vacant by Couillard’s departure.

No by-election date has been set, but Charest said Bolduc would be in the assembly when it resumes sitting Oct. 21.

Charest described Bolduc as talented man with an impressive track record who knows the system, and the system knows him. And, Charest added, Bolduc knows the regions as well as the big cities.

Mario Dumont, leader of the opposition Action démocratique du Québec, said the teaching hospitals and Bolduc’s attitude to the Castonguay report, which recommended greater reliance on private health care, will be tests for the new minister.

The construction of the new hospitals is challenging, as is controlling the cost, Dumont said, we’ll see how he can exert some immediate leadership on that.

As for the Castonguay report, shelved by Charest and Couillard, Dumont wondered, Will he leave it on the shelf or will he have the courage to go back to work on that?