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QUEBEC – A new mandate and it’s a whopper.
With his opposition splintered into four different parties and Quebecers in a mood for stability, François Legault Monday easily sailed into his second mandate as a premier with a majority government.
With most polls reporting, the Coalition Avenir Québec had bagged 89 seats, 13 more than he started with and within the range of what pollsters have been projecting since August. It is also close to the contemporary record established in 1989, when late Liberal leader Robert Bourassa won a stunning 92 seats.
It is all the more significant because the last two parties that tried to win a second mandate — the Parti Québécois in 2014 and the Liberals in 2018 — failed.
“Tonight Quebecers sent us a strong message,” Legault said in a victory speech before hundreds of supports at the Coalition Avenir Québec election night headquarters at the Théâtre Capitole in old Quebec City.
“Tonight Quebecers told us, continue.”
He described the election as historic because it elected the greatest number of women in history but then he rapidly turned to mending fences with the opposition parties and the many Quebecers who did not vote for him, including members of the English-speaking community that stuck with the Liberals.
“An election divides,” Legault said. “Yet I think there are many more things which unite us than things which divide us.”
Switching to English, he offered an olive branch.
“When I say Quebecers form a great nation, I mean all Quebecers, from all regions, of all ages, of all origins. I’m going to be the premier of all Quebecers.”
Legault seemed moved by the sheer magnitude of the win, one for the history books indeed.
“I love Quebec, I love Quebecers,” Legault said. “You are paying me a great honour in choosing me a second time to be your premier. It is a great responsibility, which I assume with all my heart.”
The only question mark hovering for the rest of the evening was who would form the official opposition and how many seats would be left for the other three parties. In the end the Liberals — despite dire predictions — retained the title with 22 seats, six less than it had when the legislature was dissolved.
With most of her support on the island of Montreal and Laval, Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding her party and selling it to francophone voters in the regions. She will also have to explain what turned out to be the worst election score for the party since Confederation.
On the other hand, the party exceeded expectations. The fact Anglade held her home riding of Saint-Henri—Sainte-Anne may help stabilize her leadership.
Montreal again rejected the CAQ, with the party actually losing one of the only two seats it won in 2018, Camille-Laurin (formerly Bourget). Instead the battle on the island was between the Liberals and Québec solidaire.
QS started the election with 10 seats and had dreamed of adding more to its stable but made little headway, ending with 11. After making inroads in rural off-island ridings in 2018, QS lost to the CAQ in Rouyn-Noranda, where the future of the Horne copper smelter dominated the campaign.
QS incumbent Christine Labrie held her seat in Sherbrooke, beating former Longueuil mayor Caroline St-Hilaire who ran for the CAQ. QS picked up Liberal seats in Montreal, including the hotly contested riding of Maurice-Richard.
It was a mix of good and bad news for the Parti Québécois, a party which entered the race on life support with only seven ridings and a greenhorn leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.
The PQ retained the ridings of Matane-Matapédia, where veteran MNA Pascal Bérubé was re-elected, and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, where Joël Arseneau fought off archrival and childhood friend Jonathan Lapierre, the mayor of the archipelago.
But the surprise of the evening was St-Pierre Plamondon. Credited with running the best campaign of the five leaders, St-Pierre Plamondon pulled off an upset win in the riding of Camille-Laurin, ousting sitting CAQ MNA Richard Campeau.
St-Pierre Plamondon’s big break came when the QS candidate in the riding, Marie-Ève Rancourt, was caught pilfering PQ election pamphlets and pulled out of the election.
“I have an immense feeling of pride,” St-Pierre Plamondon told supporters in Boucherville, saying the results show the dream of Quebec independence is alive after all.
The news was bleak for the Conservatives. Despite big rallies of disgruntled voters unhappy with COVID-19 measures and a media-savvy campaign, the party won nothing. Party leader Éric Duhaime had hoped to make his entry to the National Assembly in the Quebec City riding of Chauveau but the popular CAQ incumbent Sylvain Lévesque held on.
Addressing his supporters, Duhaime put a positive spin on the results, noting the party that started with one per cent of the vote and only 500 members finished with significant support.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “It was a David versus Goliath battle.”
Duhaime said he would stay on as leader despite the low score.
The two fledgling minority-rights parties, the Bloc Montréal and the Canadian Party of Quebec, also failed to win any seats despite anglophone anger with the Liberals’ handling of Bill 96 that overhauled the Charter of the French Language.
In another big piece of news, Kateri Champagne Jourdain won for the CAQ in the Duplessis riding becoming Quebec’s first Innu woman MNA.
For Legault, who retains the title as Quebec’s 33rd premier in history, the election fulfills a personal dream to prove the party he created in 2011 as a third way, somewhere between the traditional federalist and sovereignist viewpoints, was more than a flash-in-the-pan.
After disappointments in the CAQ’s two first electoral forays, the breakthrough came in 2018 when Quebecers decided to try on a new shape of blue, making Legault premier with a majority government.
In the four years since, the CAQ has set down roots in ridings it did not have before. That paid off big time in this election. Its image as a winning political force also gave it the pick of talented new candidates, with Legault musing in this campaign that he will have plenty of capable potential ministers to choose from.
Legault is expected to move into action swiftly, holding a post-election news conference Tuesday. He has a number of things to decide: when he will form his new cabinet and when the legislature, the 43rd in Quebec’s history, will resume work.
The one minister guaranteed to keep the post he had in the old government is Health Minister Christian Dubé. Legault made that statement during the campaign.
On the campaign trail, Legault also stated that the first piece of legislation he intends to present is a bill slapping a ceiling on most government fees, including Hydro-Québec rates and automobile registration permits.
He has also promised a new language bill, this one dealing with the protection of the nine Indigenous languages spoken in Quebec.
Other issues are more contentious. His plan to building a new “downtown to downtown” tunnel between Quebec City and Lévis has been hotly contested, with many doubting it will ever actually happen.
The vote brings to an end a 36-day campaign during which the five political parties criss-crossed Quebec’s 17 regions trying to woo voters.