Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012 6:29AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012 10:19PM EDT
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois will become Quebec’s first female premier after her sovereigntist party ended nearly a decade of Liberal rule in a tense election.
CTV News declared a minority PQ government, a result that may alleviate some fears of an impending referendum on Quebec’s independence, which Marois said she would only call under the “right conditions."
By 9:30 p.m., the PQ had won or was leading in 59 ridings. The party needs 63 seats in the 125-seat legislature to form a majority government.
The Liberals fared better than the polls had projected, winning or leading in about 45 ridings and clinching the official Opposition status.
But while Marois easily won her riding, Premier Jean Charest seemed poised to lose his Sherbrooke seat to PQ candidate Serge Cardin.
The newly formed Coalition Avenir Quebec party, led by Francois Legault, was considered a wildcard in this election. It won about 20 seats, landing in third place.
Voter turnout was strong, with more than 52 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballots by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. In the last provincial election, only 57 per cent of Quebecers cast their ballots.
Charest’s 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.
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.
But 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.