Liberal leader Philippe Couillard now has a seat in the National Assembly.

Couillard won a byelection in Outremont, while another Liberal newcomer, David Heurtel, was elected in Viau.

Both were sworn in as Members of the National Assembly Wednesday morning, then Couillard made his first speech as MNA and leader of the Quebec Liberal party.

He criticized the Parti Quebecois's Charter of Values, calling it a "false solution to a false problem." and said Quebec should engage in political discussion "that respects people's intelligence."

"We will not barter our liberties. We will not trade them off for votes or political calculations," said Couillard.

He later told reporters that the Liberals are not against all aspects on the Charter, adding that they've always supported three elements: that faces of public sector workers be uncovered at work, that employees need legislated guidelines to help them with accommodation, and that religious neutrality of government institutions needs to be clarified through legislation.

"So each time someone tells me, 'Oh you're against the Charter, (I say) look, wait a minute, there are certain elements that as a government we would also do. Those three elements. But we will remain opposed to any kind of job discrimination associated with whether or person may or may not wear certain signs," he said.

Couillard also said Quebecers of all stripes should be able to embrace the flag and the fleur-de-lis, with the implication that federalists should not be ashamed to call themselves Quebecers.

"Quebec's flag belongs to everyone."

Couillard became Liberal leader last March. He opted to stay out of the National Assembly to rebuild the party by touring the province, but has had to debate the Marois government without being involved in the daily debate.

He wanted to run for a seat in his home of Roberval, and with speculation there might be a general election this past fall it was Couillard's first choice.

When it became evident the PQ was not going to dissolve the house, Couillard decided to run in the Outremont seat which was vacated by Raymond Bachand -- who quit his seat after losing the leadership to Couillard.

Challenges ahead

Because Couillard has not been in the assembly, he's had a bit of trouble maintaining the caucus, including blindsiding them with some of his ideas on the economy.

He was caught off-guard by MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin when she disagreed with his "over my dead body" approach to the Charter of Values and revealed she would consider a partial ban on the wearing of religious symbols at work--specifically for police officers and prison guards.

That forced Couillard to step back from his outright dismissal of the Charter, and combined with other actions earned him the nickname Philippe-Flop.

Another issue that has dogged Couillard was his relationship with Arthur Porter, stemming from when Porter was head of the MUHC and Couillard was Liberal health minister.

Couillard has always said he had no knowledge of Porter's alleged kickbacks, those which have landed him in jail in Central America fighting extradition.

The Charbonneau inquiry resumes on Jan. 13 and could delve into relationships between political parties and Liberals and corruption.

Hearings into the Charter of Values begin on January 14, and there's a spring budget expected shortly after Couillard takes his seat in the Assembly in February.

Couillard announces parliamentary officers

Couillard also announced Wednesday his team of parliamentary officers for the official opposition. They are:

  • Jacques -Cartier MNA Geoffrey Kelley, who will assume the role of chairman of the parliamentary caucus of the Liberal wing.
  • Châteauguay MNA Pierre Moreau, who will serve as the house leader of the official opposition.
  • Anjou- Louis Riel MNA Lise Thériault, who will assume the role of deputy house leader.
  • Saint –Laurent MNA Jean- Marc Fournier, who will assume the role of chief whip of the official opposition.
  • Soulanges MNA Lucie Charlebois, who will assume the role of deputy whip of the Liberal parliamentary wing.