Quebec Liberals win majority: 'Division is over'
Philippe Couillard’s Liberals have won the Quebec election with a majority government, crushing the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois and Premier Pauline Marois.
Liberal candidates won in 70 of the province's ridings, the Parti Quebecois won 30, the Coalition Avenir Quebec took 22 and Quebec Solidaire picked up three. The PQ got about 25 per cent of the popular vote, its lowest share since 1970.
In a stunning turn of events, Marois lost her own seat in Charlevoix-Cote-de-Beaupre to Liberal Caroline Simard.
Couillard, who was a neurosurgeon before he entered politics, easily won his riding of Roberval, defeating PQ incumbent Denis Trottier.
Taking the stage at Liberal headquarters after most of the ballots had been counted, Couillard vowed to run an inclusive and “stable” government that represents the interests of all Quebecers.
“Our language, our flag belongs to all Quebecers,” he said.
Addressing the province’s anglophones in English, Couillard said: “We are all Quebecers. We should all focus on what brings us together. What unites us makes us stronger.”
He later added in French: “Division is over; reconciliation has arrived.”
In her concession speech, Marois announced she will step down as PQ leader and ensure an “orderly transition.”
“Quebecers have spoken and we must respect this result,” she said. “We had so much to offer, so much to accomplish for Quebecers.”
The defeat of the PQ came after a 33-day election campaign many observers described as one of the nastiest in decades.
The Parti Quebecois had only been in power for 18 months. Its controversial values charter, which aimed to prevent public sector workers from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols, and the push for sovereignty did not sit well with voters.
For many, it was no surprise: opinion polls had been putting the Liberals in the lead for days leading up to election day.
But Marois remained defiant and optimistic until the end, telling reporters earlier Monday that her party would win the election. After voters sealed her fate, she said she was still proud of her government’s 18-month run.
The PQ campaign was largely derailed when high-profile candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau announced that he had entered politics with the goal of creating an independent Quebec.
Many observers said that Peladeau's remarks shifted support away from the PQ and towards the Liberals. Although the PQ is a separatist party, it tends not to talk about referendums during election campaigns.
Despite Marois' attempts to assure voters that the PQ wouldn't press forward with another referendum until Quebecers were ready, the Liberals capitalized on the issue and moved ahead in the polls, with Francois Legault's CAQ also picking up momentum.
Addressing his supporters Monday night, Legault congratulated Marois for sticking to her beliefs and ideas throughout the election campaign. He also said he respects the voters’ decision to elect Couillard as the next premier, but vowed that CAQ will be “vigilant” in its opposition role.
He also said the CAQ will be behind the Liberal government when it comes to protecting the interests of Quebecers.
“We led a good battle,” Legault said, adding that the CAQ chose “to tell the truth to Quebecers rather than play the electoral card.”
Federal leaders react
After Marois conceded the election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement offering his “sincerest congratulations” to Couillard.
“The results clearly demonstrate that Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation,” he said.
“We look forward to working with the new Government of Quebec on those priorities.”
Harper also thanked Marois for her public service.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who represents the Quebec riding of Papineau, also congratulated Couillard and the provincial Liberals late Monday.
“Today, Quebecers voted for a better economy, instead of a third referendum, by electing Philippe Couillard as their new Premier and giving the Quebec Liberal Party a strong mandate to address the real issues in the province,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“As I have said since last summer, I had the utmost confidence that Quebec voters would reject the negative, divisive politics of Mme. Marois' proposed plan. I am proud that my fellow Quebecers have chosen unity and acceptance as we move forward together.”
In a statement, Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the New Democrats have “taken note of the people’s desire to end the old quarrels, and the new Premier can count on us to promote Quebec’s interests in Ottawa, as part of our effort to build a more just and prosperous Canada for all.”
With files from Marlene Leung