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Anti-separatist Liberals win provincial elections in Quebec

© AFP (Quebec's Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard)

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-08

The Liberal Party won provincial elections in Quebec on Monday, defeating the separatist Parti Quebecois and eliminating the looming possibility of a new referendum on independence from Canada.

The election in the mainly French-speaking province had turned into a referendum on whether to hold another vote on seceding from Canada, and the answer appeared to be a resounding “Non.”

The Liberal Party had warned incessantly that the Parti Quebecois, which had called the election in an effort to turn their minority government into a majority, would hold a referendum if it succeeded.

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois, who lost her own riding, announced she would resign as head of her party in view of the electoral defeat. Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard will now replace her as the province’s prime minister.

The Liberal Party led in 70 of the 125 races, while the Parti Quebecois led in just 30, its lowest since 1989.

The Parti Quebecois also took the lowest share of the vote since it won 23.1 percent in its first election in 1970. With 98.8 percent of voting stations reporting on Monday, it had 25.4 percent of the votes, against 41.5 percent for the Liberal Party.

It was nearly eclipsed by the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec, a conservative party that also opposes a referendum. It won or led in 22 seats and took 23.3 percent of the votes.

“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,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the new government of Quebec on those priorities.”

The Parti Quebecois went into the campaign with a lead in the polls, which quickly vanished after star candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau, a media magnate, pumped his fist in the air in saying how he wanted “to make Quebec a country.”

Though sovereignty is the raison d’être of the Parti Quebecois, party leader Marois had focused on other issues, playing down the likelihood of a referendum ahead of the election. Péladeau’s declaration, however, brought it back to the fore.

A first referendum in 1980 lost by almost 20 points, but a second one in 1995 was much closer, with voters choosing to remain a part of Canada by little over one percentage point.

Polls show that two-thirds of Quebec citizens do not want to go through a third referendum, an opinion that was clearly manifested in this year’s elections.

“Pierre Karl Péladeau was the worst nightmare for the Parti Quebecois in this election,” former federal Member of Parliament Andre Bachand, who served as senior Quebec advisor to Prime Minister Harper, said on CBC television.

Péladeau is the controlling shareholder of media empire Quebecor Inc but had stepped down from management decisions as he entered the election.

Separatists defiant in defeat

Péladeau, who won his seat, said in his victory speech that his party must accept the election’s result with humility, before returning to the issue of Quebec’s independence, promising to strengthen the province’s businesses and productivity.

“To work to strengthen Quebec’s economy is also to work to make sovereignty more feasible,” he said.

Bernard Drainville, a former CBC journalist who served as a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister, insisted the separatists would “never give up, never, never. We will rise again from this defeat.” He then told Parti Quebecois supporters in a chant, “We want a country.”

French is the mother tongue for four out of five Quebec residents, and separatists want to secede from Canada in order to have total autonomy.

Quebec political lore contains the phrase “neverendum referendum,” which suggests that the issue will never completely be laid to bed. Following the Liberal Party’s big win, however, it looks as though a referendum will not be happening for at least the next few years.

The province’s law on fixed election dates dictates that the next vote will be in October 2018.

Monday’s election also means the end of the Parti Quebecois’ proposed secularism charter, which would have prevented public sector employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, from the Muslim hijab to the Jewish yarmulke to the Christian cross.

The Liberal Party had strenuously opposed the charter, which had proved most popular in francophone areas outside the main cities.

On the federal level, the separatists have also not fared well, being reduced to just four of 75 Quebec seats in the House of Commons in the last federal election in 2011.

Their seats were mainly captured by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which is against Quebec independence. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said in a statement: “The NDP has taken note of the people’s desire to end the old quarrels.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-04-08

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