MONTREAL — Francois Legault will be heading back to Quebec’s legislature with an even stronger hold on power, after a resounding election victory that saw his Coalition Avenir Quebec win the most seats of any party in more than 30 years.
As of 11 p.m. Legault was leading or elected in 88 ridings, compared to 24 for the Quebec Liberals, 10 for Quebec solidaire and three for the Parti Quebecois.
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A first cheer went up at Legault’s election night headquarters in Quebec City as the party was declared the winner less than 15 minutes after voting closed, and the celebration continued as the victories piled up. Legault was easily reelected in his own riding of L’Assomption.
Opinion polls throughout the campaign showed the CAQ cruising to a second straight majority, with support more than 20 percentage points higher than that of its closest rival, and the result delivered few surprises.
Legault was facing a crowded field including the Liberals, Quebec solidaire, the Parti Quebecois and the Quebec Conservative Party. The five-week campaign was dominated by issues such as immigration, the environment and the rising cost of living.
Legault was elected in 2018 on promises to focus on building Quebec’s economy and protecting the French language. However, the focus of his government turned in 2020 to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, where his approval rating shot sky-high as he held daily press conferences to update the population — even as the province saw thousands of deaths from the virus in long-term care homes.
After an election campaign in which COVID-19 played almost no role, Legault emerges freer than ever to pursue his agenda. It is the most seats any party has won since 1989.
Even some CAQ supporters who gathered at election night headquarters appeared surprised by the speed of the party’s victory. Most were still standing near the back of the room when the race was called, but they quickly began to celebrate.
“We were very surprised, at 8:09 p.m., a majority government,” said Michelle Dupont, 70. Dupont, who attended the event with her sister, said she supports Legault because of his charisma, the humanity he showed during the COVID-19 pandemic and his team.
“It’s because of the platform, their values. It’s above all the values that connect with me,” she said.
The celebration was more muted at the headquarters of the Liberal party, which retained official Opposition status despite losing seats.
Partisans at Montreal’s Corona Theatre broke into chants of “Dominique! Dominique!” when the party was projected to finish second, but it was clear from the long faces that nobody had expected leader Dominique Anglade to pull off an upset victory. She won in her riding of St-Henri-Ste-Anne.
Despite a decline in both seats and popular vote, Anglade appeared all smiles as she addressed supporters. In a brief speech, she thanked her party members, husband and three children, and promised to represent all Quebecers in her next term.
“Whether you voted for us or you voted for another political party, my door, our door, will always be open,” she said.
It was a disappointing night for left-leaning sovereigntist party Quebec solidaire, which had hoped to vault past the Liberals and jump into the official Opposition spot but stalled. Party co-spokespersons Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Masse were re-elected in their ridings.
There was also disappointment for Conservative Leader Eric Duhaime, who had been seeking a breakthrough after his party won less than two per cent of the popular vote in 2018. The party increased its share of the vote but was not projected to win any seats, and Duhaime was defeated in his riding of Chauveau north of Quebec City.
Parti Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon recaptured a riding his party lost to the CAQ in 2018 to make his entry into the national assembly. But he will be leading the smallest PQ caucus since the party’s first election in 1970.
Monday’s results are likely to raise further questions about the first-past-the-post electoral system. Preliminary results suggested the Quebec Liberal party managed to snag 20 or more seats with fewer votes than either Quebec solidaire or the Parti Quebecois — and with only about a percentage point more than the Conservatives, which were not projected to win any seats.
Legault’s win in the 2018 provincial election marked the start of a new era in Quebec politics after nearly 50 years of federalist-versus-separatist two-party rule.
This time around, Legault was the incumbent and was offering continuity rather than change.
With the campaign slogan “Continue!,” the Coalition Avenir Quebec leader promised to cut taxes, increase seniors benefits and fight the rising cost of living. But Legault faced criticism over controversial comments on immigration, as well as accusations from his rivals that he’s not sufficiently concerned with climate change.
His nationalist approach to governing, which consists of asserting Quebec’s autonomy while ruling out an independence referendum, has won him support that has come at the expense of the traditional parties — the Liberals and Parti Quebecois.
While in office, he pursued an aggressive agenda that included passing bills to strengthen French-language laws and prevent civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job — moves that drew condemnation from some business and rights groups, but were largely supported by his base.
At dissolution, the CAQ had 76 of the legislature’s 125 seats, while the Liberals had 27, Quebec solidaire had 10 and the Parti Quebecois had seven. The Conservative Party of Quebec held one seat and there were four Independents.