Francois Legault’s centre-right Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) has won a commanding majority government in the Quebec election, unseating Philippe Couillard’s centre-left Liberals and trouncing the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois.

The CAQ received roughly 38 per cent of the popular vote, followed by the Liberals at 24 per cent, the Parti Quebecois at 18 per cent and Quebec solidaire at 15 per cent. Voter turnout was estimated at 63 per cent.

The CAQ is expected to finish with around 74 of the province’s 125 seats. The party performed well nearly everywhere outside the island of Montreal, where the outgoing Liberals and left-wing Quebec solidaire won nearly all the seats.

Legault, the 61-year-old co-founder of Air Transat and former PQ minister, will be the first premier in nearly 50 years who is not leading the separatist PQ or the Liberal Party. His seven-year-old party focused its campaign on improving health care and tightening immigration. He has promised to reduce the number of immigrants entering the province from 50,000 to 40,000 and said he would require them to pass a French language and values test within three years of their arrival.

“Today, there’s many Quebecers who have put aside a debate that has divided us for 50 years,” he said in his victory speech, in an apparent reference to the separatism debate.

“Today, there are many Quebecers that have demonstrated it’s possible to have people working together for the Quebec of tomorrow,” he added.

He also offered a few words to English speakers. "Let’s work together to make Quebec stronger within Canada and I want to assure you that my government will be your government," he added.

Couillard concedes

Quebec has been growing economically under Couillard, but voters were tired of the Liberals after they spent 13 of the past 15 years in power, according to political commentator and former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings.

Couillard spoke to supporters in his seat of Roberval just before 10 p.m., where he congratulated Legault on his “unambiguous victory.” He did not step down as leader of the party, promising a “short reflection.”

Couillard, a brain surgeon before entering politics, said he will leave the premier’s chair with his head held high, claiming that Quebec now “pays a billion less in interest to foreign banks” and has invested “a billion more in our schools.”

“We’ve put the basis in order to make the province more prosperous, greener, fairer,” he said, in French. “Quebec is now looked at with respect and even admiration.”

Couillard also offered a message to the Anglophone minority, who strongly supported his party. “You are like us, first class Quebecers,” he said.

“Yes, French is our official language,” he added. “English is not a foreign language in Quebec. You have always been among us, part of our history.”

Parti Quebecois leader resigns

PQ Leader Jean-Francois Lisee lost his seat, Rosemont, to Quebec solidaire candidate Vincent Marissal, and resigned as leader of the party in a speech shortly after 11 p.m.

“The decision in Rosemont puts an end to the most amazing job that I had as the leader of the Parti Quebecois,” he said.

Lisee said the campaign was like “going up Niagara Falls with paddles,” adding, “we paddled.”

“The will of the people to choose the CAQ to make sure to move the Liberals away was stronger than ever,” he added.

He said the PQ will continue to be needed as long as Quebec remains without its independence.

Quebec solidaire grows

Quebec solidaire’s Manon Masse’s upstart party was on track to win about 10 seats, growing beyond Montreal to take the ridings of Taschereau in Quebec City, and Sherbrooke.

“When the caravan of our party hit the road 40 days ago, we were not even in the race,” Masse said in a speech to supporters Monday evening.

“You have given them a hope,” she added. “You have awakened in them a courage and you have given the Quebec people a will to walk again.”

McGill University political scientist Antonia Maioni noted the huge shift in votes to the two new parties, which she described as populist.

“What’s really interesting about Quebec solidaire is that it’s now gaining support across Quebec,” Maioni said. “It’s not just a fringe party, it’s not just a Montreal-based party.”

With files from CTV Montreal