Due to an overwhelming demand, the following is a brief Q&A between Dr. Arthur Porter and his biographer, Jeff Todd, from La Joya prison in Panama. The discussion concerns the ongoing Quebec provincial election.
Porter's highly anticipated memoir will be released in Canada, United States and the Bahamas in early September.
Q: Do you take offense when Couillard says he was "fooled" by you?
Arthur: I take offense by the word, but I suspect it was probably taken out of context. We had a healthy relationship and I like to think we continue to do so. What we did in developing the hospital system in Quebec was something frankly people should be proud of. We worked a long time to ensure the hospital, which is now nearing completion and will be a first-class hospital, is something everyone can be proud of. Certainly, I am very proud of it.
Q: How deep was your relationship with Couillard?
Arthur: Philippe and I knew each other very well. We spent time socially together. We felt it was important to have a good relationship because there were things we had to do on the work side. But we also genuinely liked each other and we spent quality time together. Our intention had been to carry that on into the future.
I would say the relationship was close. We spoke about more than work, things we were going through. And many personal things I won't go into here, because they are personal. In the posts we held, one does not have many friends. Sometimes it is nice to develop friends where you can have a good relationship with.
Q: Do you think Couillard would make a good Premier of Quebec?
Arthur: I do think he would make a good first minister. One thing about Philippe is he is extremely intelligent, versatile and he has a good world understanding. He understands Quebec, Canada and the world. He is cosmopolitan. And he is flexible and comes up with new ideas. I think that is very important. While you have firm ideas in how to do things, you need flexibility to change and listen and react. He has those qualities.
Q: Couillard has been criticized during the campaign for not standing up for French language rights. Do you feel Couillard is soft when it comes to French culture, language and identity?
Arthur: I think the one thing he recognizes is that you can't go back historically and the world is a small place. Some would argue that Internet borders are more important than the borders of nations. To be xenophobic and live in past with linguistic borders doesn't not exist anymore in the age of Skype, Google and international travel. Philippe wants to move Quebec into that era but keep the cultural roots he embraces.
When we looked at hospitals in Quebec, back when Philippe was the Minister of Health, he always recognized being a Quebecer and a staunch Francophone. He sometimes made decisions about the hospital networks which I felt disadvantaged the MUHC, and he would respond, "this is Quebec! ".
Q: What do you think about the PQ's election tactics?
Arthur: There is always this question of English or French. You have to draw a line and not see both. They want to place you in that corner. And I'm glad he is not allowing himself to be pushed into that corner.
Q: Why did you and Couillard decide to start a consultancy firm together?
Arthur: We were both finishing one career and looking for the next. I had completed what I wanted to do at MUHC, and he had to decide if he wanted to continue in the political arena or would go into commercial business. We both had a sense of internationalism, He had worked in Saudi Arabia and had a lot of international political links. I too had a lot of political and international links. We felt it could be useful to amortize all of our experience into a consultancy firm, when the time was right. And the time was right when I left MUHC. So we put those things in process. We never activated the company, pending the fact i was still basically at the MUHC and we wanted to wait until those strings were cut.
Q: How aware was MUHC and others about your outside business interests?
Arthur: The board and MUHC were fully aware. I always disclosed what I was doing formally in my usual once a year report to the board, but also my CV and other public documents concerning me were always available online and elsewhere. Anyone who wanted to know about my business interests could easily find out about them. Do you think we would have chosen the name"Porter Couillard" if we had something to hide?
Q: Do you still consider Couillard a friend?
Arthur: Yes, I do not believe in "fair-weather" friendship.