QUEBEC — An outgoing Liberal member of the Quebec legislature accused Premier Philippe Couillard on Wednesday of not keeping his word as he was unceremoniously dumped by the party ahead of the upcoming election campaign.
Francois Ouimet, 58, took his leave after 24 years in the national assembly and one day after the Liberals showed him the door.
Instead of fighting an election, Ouimet unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears at the podium, describing hurt feelings after saying Couillard assured him in person in May he would sign his nomination papers.
Ouimet said he'd asked the question of his leader as rumours swirled on French political talk shows about his riding.
"You know, when you shake someone's hand, and the person looks at you in the eyes, and the person tells me: 'Do not worry, I will sign your candidacy for you and I will not play games with you,' and there's a good handshake, you believe that," Ouimet said.
"That promise was not honoured."
Ouimet was first elected in 1994 in the Montreal riding of Marquette but never held a cabinet position in the 13 years the Liberals have been in power over his 24 years of service.
He said he had his election photos taken a few weeks ago and was told his nomination meeting would be held Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the party quietly cancelled that meeting and informed Ouimet of the news. He spoke Wednesday to Couillard, who spoke of party renewal in making it clear he no longer figured in the party's plans.
Couillard told reporters later in Quebec City that, until recently, Ouimet was the party's candidate.
But the premier said circumstances had changed, the number of quality candidates had increased and that he needed to present a team that was both renewed and experienced.
Couillard has scheduled a news conference in Montreal on Thursday morning to unveil his Marquette candidate and sources say it will be Enrico Ciccone, a former journeyman NHL defenceman.
Ouimet, meanwhile, didn't use the word betrayal, but said he deserved better.
"I understand renewal, I understand changes," he said. "I mean, political parties are dynamic.
"But when you have a meeting specifically to clarify that point with regards to your own candidacy and the promises made and later not honoured, that becomes very hurtful."
He had been prepared to challenge for an eighth term — which would have made Ouimet dean of the legislature had he emerged victorious.
There was speculation organizers wanted him to step aside so the distinction of legislature elder would fall to Coaltion Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault — a convenient attack line during an election.
"I can only speculate," Ouimet said.
Several colleagues were questioned about Ouimet as they attended a cabinet meeting in Quebec City.
International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre took a philosophical view: "If we are asked to leave, we must have the elegance to do so," she said.
Natural Resources Minister Pierre Moreau said this type of partisan decision belongs to the leader and must be respected, while junior transport minister Veronyque Tremblay suggested it was still possible for Ouimet to run as an independent.
Jocelyne Richer, The Canadian Press