Quebec agriculture minister Bechard steps down

Claude Bechard, Quebec’s minister of agriculture, food and fisheries, has resigned his post and his seat in the province’s legislature for health reasons.

Bechard, the MNA for Kamouraska-Temiscouata in Quebec’s Bas-St-Laurent region, didn’t give a specific health reason in his statement Tuesday, but has been undergoing treatments for pancreatic cancer since 2008.

The 41-year-old Bechard was sidelined for five months that year, and five more months earlier this year, for related health problems. He was hospitalized in January with a pancreatic tumour obstructing his small intestine, had surgery in February to remove a related blockage, and returned to work in June.

Bechard’s statement Tuesday didn’t give any new details about his condition. However, he said he plans to go through this challenge in the close company of his partner and children, and that he would not give any interviews.

A replacement hasn’t yet been named for Bechard in either of his ministerial portfolios. Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil, a Beauce region MNA, had handled the ag file on an interim basis in Bechard’s absence earlier this year.

Premier Jean Charest on Tuesday said he was saddened to see Bechard exit political life, noting his admiration for Bechard’s determination, ardour and heart and describing him as a "precious friend and marvellous travelling companion."

Bechard thanked Charest for his confidence and the Liberal caucus for its staunch support, calling it a "great honour and real pleasure" to serve the people of Quebec.

As well, he thanked his constituents in his "magnificent corner of the country," calling them people of great heart and describing it as a "great privilege" to have represented them for the past 13 years.

Bechard, who also steps down from his portfolio as intergovernmental affairs minister, has been in Quebec’s assembly since 1997, starting in critic portfolios including employment and labour, education and energy and resources.

After the 2003 election he joined cabinet as minister of employment and social services, then moved to economic development in 2006, environment in 2007 and natural resources in 2008, becoming agriculture minister in June last year and adding the intergovernmental affairs file last month.

Bechard also served as the party’s deputy house leader from early 2006 to 2007, and again from June 2009 until last month.

Before entering political life, Bechard earned a degree in political science and took doctoral studies in public administration at Laval University, then worked as a consultant for a public relations firm and for the provincial Liberals, becoming that party’s vice-president by 1997.

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