QUEBEC -- Philippe Couillard was sworn in as Quebec premier on Wednesday and immediately warned that the time has come for hard economic decisions.

The Liberal premier may feel emboldened in introducing austerity measures after winning 70 of the 125 ridings up for grabs in the April 7 election.

After unveiling his 26-member cabinet, Couillard reeled off a litany of the economic difficulties facing Quebec: a rampant provincial debt that is the highest in the country; the heaviest tax burden; and the highest level of expenditures.

"In a nutshell, we've been spending beyond our means for a long time," Couillard said. "The debt is high. The interest payments (on it) are higher than the budget for the Education Department.

"So we have to act with decisiveness, courage and determination to rectify a situation that represents a threat to the quality of life for current and future generations.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the time for marginal or cosmetic measures has gone. It is time for difficult decisions."

The man who will make many of these decisions will be new Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, a former chief economist with the Laurentian Bank.

Leitao, a political rookie, will likely table a budget in the coming weeks.

The economic development dossier is going to Jacques Daoust, the former president of Investissement Québec, also a newcomer who becomes Minister of Economy, Innovation and Export Trade, a new name for the cabinet.

Daoust said Wednesday the government wants to ease the burden on businesses.

“We just want to say that it's good to invest in Quebec. We'll make sure that we have an environment that is favourable, but we don't want to replace the private sector. It's not our job,” he said.

President of the Treasury Board is Martin Coiteux, who prior to entering the political arena, was a senior economist with the Bank of Canada.

Eight women

The cabinet has eight women, including new deputy premier Lise Theriault, who will also serve as public security minister.

Stéphanie Vallée will serve as Justice Minister, a young Liberal member who is a first-time minister. She will also be responsible for the Status of Women file.

Lise Thériault was named Minister of Public Safety and will also serve as Deputy Prime Minister.

The promotion of culture and the French language will go to another new recruit, Hélène David.

International Relations and the Francophonie will be served by Christine St-Pierre, while municipal affairs are entrusted to Pierre Moreau.

Kathleen Weil returns as head of the Immigration Department, which now includes a diversity and inclusion component.
She co-chaired the campaign for Couillard’s leadership last year.

Doctors at the helm

The government also has a decidedly medical bent, with three doctors occupying key positions.

Firstly there's neurosurgeon Couillard. Then there's Health Minister Gaetan Barrette, a radiologist who until the election campaign was head of the federation representing specialist doctors.

A reputed tough guy, Barrette may have one of the toughest jobs in cabinet.

“We have to do the best with what is offered to us by the population of Quebec, which are the taxes,” he said.

Rounding out the trio is general practitioner and former health minister Yves Bolduc, who will head the Education Department. Higher education, research and science are also part of Bolduc’s dossier.

Between them, Barrette and Bolduc will oversee 75 per cent of the Quebec budget.

Opposition reacts

Interim Parti Quebecois leader Stephane Bedard lamented what he described as a lack of details on how the new government would create jobs.

"There will be other opportunities but it is crucial to know about that because, otherwise, there could be a loss of consumer confidence and a loss of confidence among investors," Bedard said.

Coalition Leader Francois Legault urged Leitao to introduce income-tax relief when he tables his budget.

"It's vital for Quebecers to get a tax cut -- for them but also to get the economy rolling."

Legault took Couillard to task for the size of his cabinet.

"Twenty-seven ministers (including Couillard), that is a lot of limousines," he said. "He should have set an example by having a much smaller cabinet."

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Couillard should be premier for more than four years because the next general election is set for October 2018.

  List of cabinet ministers in full:

Carlos Leitao: Minister of Finance

Lise Thériault: Deputy Premier and Minister for Public Security

Jean-Marc Fournier: Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister for Canadian Francophonie, and Minister for Reform of Democratic Institutions and Access to Information

Pierre Moreau: Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister Responsible for the Montérégie

Martin Coiteux: Treasury Board President and Minister for Government Administration

Jacques Daoust: Minister for Economic Development, Innovation and Exports

Sam Hamad: Minister of Labour and Minister responsible for the Quebec City region

Pierre Paradis: Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and Minister responsible for the Eastern Townships

Francine Charbonneau: Minister responsible for Seniors and the Family, Minister responsible for the fight against bullying, and Minister responsible for Laval.

Stéphane Billette: Government whip

Nicole Ménard: President of the Liberal caucus

Hélène David: Minister of Culture and Communications, Minister responsible for the promotion and protection of the French language

Stéphanie Vallée: Minister of Justice, Minister for the Status of Women and Minister responsible for the Outaouais Region

Christine St-Pierre: Minister of International Affairs and Francophonie

Yves Bolduc: Minister of Education, Leisure and Sports, Minister of Post-Secondary Studies, Research and Science, and Minister responsible for the North Shore

Kathleen Weil: Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion

Gaétan Barrette: Minister of Health and Social Services

David Heurtel: Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the fight against Climate Change

Dominique Vien: Minister of Tourism and Minister Responsible for Chaudière-Appalaches

Robert Poeti: Minister of Transport and Minister Responsible for Montreal

Pierre Arcand: Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Minister for the Plan Nord and Minister responsible for the Lanaudiere and Laurentians

Francois Blais: Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity

Laurent Lessard: Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, and the Minister responsible for Central Quebec

Geoffrey Kelley: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

Jean D'Amour: Minister of Transport and Maritime Strategy Implementation, and Minister responsible for the Lower St. Lawrence, Gaspé and Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

Lucie Charlebois: Minister responsible for the rehabilitation and protection of youth, and Minister of Public Health

Luc Blanchette: Minister of Mines and Minister responsible for Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Northern Quebec

Jean-Denis Girard: Minister of Small and Medium-sized Businesses and Regional Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Mauricie

With files from CTV Montreal and La Presse Canadienne