The Canadian Press
MONTREAL–Quebecers charted a new course for their province yesterday by giving the seven-year-old Coalition Avenir Quebec a majority mandate in an election result that could create waves beyond its borders.
Quebec, Canada’s second most-populous province, has joined the even bigger province of Ontario in voting for change following about 15 years of Liberal governments.
There’s also more potential for conflict between Quebec and the federal Liberals.
On its path to victory yesterday, the right-leaning Coalition shattered nearly a half-century of two-party political rule in Quebec with a majority government that will redraw the province’s electoral map.
The party was elected in 74 of the province’s 125 ridings, compared with 32 for the incumbent Liberals.
One of the major surprises of the night was the near-disintegration of the Parti Quebecois, which earned just 17 percent of the popular vote–its worst-ever electoral performance–and won just nine seats.
Coalition leader Francois Legault guided his troops to victory after pitching himself as the candidate for change.
“Today, Quebecers chose hope; hope for a government that will bring positive change,” he told supporters in his victory speech.
“Tonight, we will celebrate the victory, then we will rest a few hours,” he added.
“But starting tomorrow [Tuesday], we will roll up our sleeves and we will work to do more, to do better for all Quebecers.”
Many predicted the tightly-fought campaign would shake up the political landscape. It was more like an earthquake.
The win delivered something Quebec hadn’t seen in 48 years–a provincial government headed by a party other than the Liberals or the PQ.
In terms of popular support, the Coalition had more than 37 percent, compared with about 25 percent for the Liberals.
Legault’s party left the Liberals in second place, Quebec solidaire in a distant third, and the stunned PQ reeling in fourth.
With support for independence sliding, the PQ now is facing an existential crisis. The party steadily has watched its backing slip after spending about 20 of the last 48 years in office.
To be considered an official party, the PQ needed either 20 percent of the popular vote yesterday or 12 seats. It got neither.
PQ leader Jean-Francois Lisee suffered a double blow by also losing his Montreal riding.
It prompted him to announce his resignation in his post-election speech.
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard salvaged some pride by being elected in his own riding. In his concession speech, he said he would take a few days to ponder his political future.
“I wish his government all the success that Quebec deserves–despite our significant differences of opinion, we are all Quebecers,” he said after congratulating Legault on his victory.
“We must stay united–we are stronger united.”
Couillard had touted his government’s balanced budgets, as well as the province’s falling unemployment rate and strong economic performance.
But early in his mandate, he faced criticism for cutting health and education budgets.
The departure of Couillard, a staunch federalist, could have implications for Canada. He had smooth relations with Ottawa during his four years in power.
It’s unclear what Legault’s win will mean for Quebec’s relationship with the Trudeau government.
But there already have been signs of potential friction between Legault, a former sovereigntist and PQ cabinet minister, and the federal government.
Last week, a recording of Legault’s wife, Isabelle Brais, captured her telling a party meeting last month that while Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was “brilliant,” his son is not.
She described the younger Trudeau as incompetent and suggested a Coalition government could have strained ties with his federal government.
Brais later apologized.
Legault declined to say whether he endorsed his wife’s comments about the prime minister, saying she’s “an independent woman who has her opinions, who is spontaneous, who apologized.”
Trudeau issued a statement yesterday to offer his “sincere congratulations” to Legault on the win.
“I look forward to working with Premier Legault to make Quebec, a province we are all proud of, an even better place to live,” said Trudeau, who represents a Montreal riding.
Looking ahead, the Coalition and Trudeau’s Liberals also could find themselves at odds over Legault’s pledges on immigration.
He grabbed national headlines during the campaign when he proposed lowering Quebec’s annual immigration levels by 20 percent.
Legault also said he wanted to force newcomers to pass French and values tests within three years of their arrival–or face removal from the province.
Responsibility, however, for such expulsions would fall to the federal government.