Marois wins minority in Quebec election, fatal shooting disrupts victory speech
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois will become Quebec’s first female premier after her sovereigntist party won a minority government and ended nearly a decade of Liberal rule in a tense election.
But as she delivered her victory speech late Tuesday night, Marois was suddenly whisked off stage because of a shooting outside PQ headquarters in downtown Montreal.
One person was killed and another was injured after a gunman opened fire behind the building. A man wearing what appeared to be a blue housecoat and a balaclava was arrested at the scene.
Marois returned to the podium to briefly resume her speech and ask everyone to slowly leave the room.
Liberal Leader and outgoing premier Jean Charest lost his seat in the riding of Sherbrooke to PQ candidate Serge Cardin, even as his party fared better at the polls than projected, assuming the role of official Opposition.
The minority PQ government may alleviate some fears of an impending referendum on Quebec’s independence, which Marois said she would only call under the “right conditions."
But Marois remained defiant in her victory speech, saying: “The future of Quebec is to become its own country.”
“To our friends and neighbours in Canada…As a nation, we want to make our own decisions that concern us,” she said.
Late Tuesday, the PQ had won or was leading in 56 ridings, short of the 63 seats needed to form a majority government in the 125-seat legislature.
The upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec party, led by Francois Legault, won at least 19 seats, landing in third place. Legault, a former PQ member, had promised a 10-year moratorium on sovereignty referendums.
The Liberals won or were leading in about 48 ridings. Charest’s stunning defeat was the first in his 28-year political career.
“Politics are difficult,” Charest said in his concession speech to a crowd of disappointed, but cheering supporters in Sherbrooke.
“I assume the entire responsibility for the results,” he said after congratulating Cardin and Marois.
Charest stressed the message of national unity, saying that “belonging to Canada” is one of the Quebec Liberal Party’s key convictions.
“The result of this election campaign speaks to the fact that the future of Quebec lies within Canada,” he said.
Charest said the Liberal Party will continue to thrive in the province, but did not discuss his political future.
Political observers said several factors contributed to Charest’s downfall.
His Liberal Party has tried to dodge corruption allegations, stemming from questionable practices in the province’s construction industry.
A recently launched public inquiry will look at allegations of corruption involving construction firms, municipal and provincial governments and organized crime. It is alleged that a number of election officials received kickbacks from shady construction projects.
Charest also drew the ire of Quebec’s post-secondary students this year when he announced a tuition fee increase, sparking a months-long student uprising that resulted in violent clashes with police on the streets on Montreal and Quebec City.
Many students favoured the PQ because Marois promised to nix the tuition hike. One of the most prominent faces of the student movement, Leo Bureau-Blouin, became a star PQ candidate and beat the Liberal incumbent in the Montreal-area riding of Laval-des-Rapides to become the youngest-ever member of the national assembly at age 20.
Now, for the first time since 2003, Quebec has a sovereigntist government that’s poised to revive tensions with Ottawa and other provinces.
Marois has said that she will contact Prime Minister Stephen Harper shortly after taking office to discuss the transfer of powers in areas like immigration, language and employment insurance from Ottawa to Quebec. If Harper refuses, Marois said that will only boost her case for an independent Quebec.
But as a minority government, the PQ will face tough challenges pushing its independence agenda. The party has won four majorities in previous elections, avoiding having to forge alliances in parliament.
Both Charest, a staunch federalist, and François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, have tried to use the prospect of a sovereignty referendum as a way to lure votes away from Marois.
Many analysts said that, even with a majority PQ government, a referendum would be unlikely until late in the governing party’s term.
Bill 101 expansion, referendum talk spark concerns
It remains to be seen how Quebec’s federalists and anglophones will react to a PQ government. Some realtors in Ontario and Quebec have already noted an increase in calls from English-speaking Quebecers who are mulling a move to Ontario or other parts of Canada.
Marois’s promise to extend Bill 101, the law which enshrines French as the province’s official language, to small businesses and colleges, has many non-French speakers worried about their education and employment prospects.
When the first Parti Quebecois government was elected in 1976, under Rene Levesque’s leadership, the rest of Canada panicked at the prospect of Quebec’s secession. The province’s anglophones left in droves and the country’s stock and bond markets reacted negatively, lowering the value of the Canadian dollar.
The PQ’s referendums on Quebec sovereignty in 1980 and 1995 both failed, although the latter one was defeated by a very narrow margin.