The business community is breathing a sigh of relief in reaction to the news that the Quebec Liberals have been swept back into power, with the loonie moving to its highest level in two months and cautious optimism on the stock market.
Philippe Couillard's provincial Liberals were elected on Monday night in a sweeping majority that sent the governing Parti Québécois to its worst showing since that party's inaugural election in 1970.
With nearly 99 per cent of polls reporting Tuesday morning, the Liberals were elected or leading in 70 seats, compared with 30 for the PQ and 22 for the third-place Coalition for Quebec's Future. The Liberals claimed 41.4 per cent of the vote to the PQ's 25.4 per cent.
"Suffice it to say that the sovereignty issue was all but put to bed last night," BMO economist Robert Kavcic said in a note to clients early Tuesday morning.
The Canadian dollar gained almost half a percentage point to trade above the 91.50 cents US level Tuesday morning — its highest level since the middle of February (although some of that is likely related to weakness in the U.S. dollar, which has been under pressure due to the crisis in Ukraine of late.) It ended the day up 0.39 of a cent to 91.56 cents US.
While the PQ focused on the sovereignty question, the other two parties kept the focus on jobs and the economy, and that appeared to resonate with voters.
"One of the messages that I expect Philippe Couillard to send during the next days and next weeks will be that Quebec is again open for business," said Benoit Pelletier, former Liberal minister and now a University of Ottawa professor .
One of the biggest challenges the new government has to face will be to tackle the province's $2.5-billion budget deficit and a debt load projected to reach $198.4 billion by 2018-19. That's more than half of the province's entire GDP, which is historically a very dangerous level from which to rebound.
The Liberals have pledged to create 250,000 jobs during the next five years, while cutting $1.3 billion in spending. Half of any eventual surplus will be directed to income tax cuts and half to paying down Quebec's long-term debt, Couillard said on the campaign trail.
New plan for mining sector
"I think the business community will be pleased," said Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of the Quebec Employers Council. "There was a question mark in the air and now a majority government will certainly provide a better, stable and foreseeable environment.
"The next government will have to be courageous and to take tough decisions in order to cut spending, because we are facing a huge debt and we are facing also increasing demand in public infrastructure."
On the stock market, the impact of the election is likely to be a non-event, but there could be individual sectors poised to do well.
Barclays analyst John Aiken said the two most Quebec-focused banks — National Bank and Laurentian Bank — have historically outperformed their peers in the months following a separatist defeat.
"The market was not as concerned heading into the polls, likely largely a result of the decline of the PQ in the polls heading into the election," Aiken wrote in a note to clients.
The Liberals also pledged to stimulate investment in mining, energy and forestry by relaunching Plan Nord, something that could be a boon for those sectors.
The Liberal win "returns some political stability back to Quebec, which is a clear positive for the flagging economy," Kavcic said.