Quebecers have elected a minority Liberal government — the first minority in the province in 130 years — while party leader Jean Charest personally prevailed after a seesaw race in his home riding of Sherbrooke.
Jean Charest, casting his ballot in Sherbrooke on Monday, won his riding and the party leader's Liberals formed a minority government. Charest commented that voters have 'rendered a severe judgment.'
(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
The Liberals and the Action Démocratique du Québec ran neck and neck in several closely contested ridings, with the Parti Québécois trailing most of the nail-biting night.
In the end, the Liberals and Premier Charest prevailed. The party took 33 per cent of the popular vote, with 48 ridings, a net loss of 26 seats since the last election. The ADQ was a close second, with the PQ ending up third.
'We have a common responsibility to defend the interests of Quebec.'—Liberal Premier Jean Charest
Quebec last had a minority government in 1878, and Charest recognized the province was witnessing a rare moment in history.
"Quebecers have spoken, and we have accepted their decision," the re-elected premier told supporters at a gathering in Sherbrooke on Monday night.
"We have to recognize they rendered a severe judgment," he added. "We have lessons to learn."
Charest said the province's success depends on the parties' willingness to work together.
Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont waves to supporters with his wife Marie-Claude Barrette and daughter Angela at election night headquarters Monday.
(Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
"We have a common responsibility to defend the interests of Quebec."
Mario Dumont's ADQ finished with 31 per cent of the popular vote, collecting 41 seats. The ADQ's final standing was a spectacular surge for the party, which had only five seats when the election was called in late February.
The Parti Québécois, led by André Boisclair, tallied a disappointing 28 per cent of the vote, translating to 36 seats — a drop of nine from the previous session.
The newly rebuilt Green Party of Quebec enjoyed a four per cent gain in popular support but failed to take a seat.
The Québec Solidaire staked its ground as well, taking more than 3½ per cent of the popular vote, with co-leaders Françoise David and Amir Khadir coming second in their respective ridings of Gouin and Mercier.
Liberals caught by surprise
For his part, Charest won his riding with nearly 37 per cent of the popular vote, ahead of the PQ's Claude Forgues, who finished with 36.6 per cent of the popular vote.
Charest called the election on Feb. 22, hedging his bet that the PQ's fall from grace in the polls in the new year would translate into renewed support for the Liberals.
But the party underestimated public discontent with the Liberal government's performance over the last four years — at election call, six out of 10 Quebecers were dissatisfied with the Liberals, according to a CROP poll.
The Liberals were caught off guard by the ADQ's rise in popularity. Dumont's party came up from behind and gained favour with voters in several key ridings, which responded to the congenial leader, and his common-sense message that includes tax cuts and child-care credits.
Despite the public grumbling, Charest ran the first leg of the campaign as a leader enjoying a comfortable lead instead of a candidate facing the political battle of his life.
Charest's campaign seemed stuck in first gear. He vaunted the Liberals' work in office and the gains won for Quebec, including a lucrative deal with Ottawa on the environment, recognition for the province at UNESCO, and a motion in the House of Commons recognizing Quebecers as a nation.
He bragged about his team of candidates — including popular former health minister Philippe Couillard and former Radio-Canada journalist Christine St-Pierre.
Focused on health
But headlines focused on problems in the health-care system instead of the Liberals' record in office.
Charest hammered home the message that the Liberals were the only party to make health care a No. 1 priority, while his opponents harped on him for breaking promises he made in 2003 to eliminate wait times and deliver tax cuts.
In the leaders' debate, Charest rose to the challenge, defending his record while warding off an attack from Dumont, who accused him of covering up problems with an overpass in Laval that collapsed in September, killing five.
In the last stretch of the election, Ottawa handed Charest a trump card as the Conservative federal budget allotted billions of dollars in transfer payments to Quebec.
The Liberal leader turned around and promised another round of tax cuts for Quebecers, many of whom scoffed at the offering, calling it a ploy to buy votes.
On election day, Charest managed to hold on to his seat, but some of his ministers didn't fare so well, including Michel Després and Carole Théberge, who both lost their Quebec City seats in the ADQ sweep.
The voter turnout Monday night was the second lowest in Quebec history — 71.28 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, up slightly from the 2003 election, when the Quebec voter turnout reached a historical low at 70.32.
|Last Update:March 27, 12:52:21 AM EDT|
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