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Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe watches election results with his wife, Yolande Brunelle, in Montreal. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

The Bloc Québécois has maintained its strong support in Quebec, where the Conservatives had been hoping for a breakthrough among the province's 75 seats in Tuesday night's election.

The Tories began the campaign seeing Quebec as a key component in their hopes to win a majority. In the end, though, the Conservatives had to fight off a projected collapse of support in the province — a collapse that didn't materialize, helping to give the party its stronger minority government.

Once results were tallied, the Bloc had won 50 seats in Quebec, followed by the Liberals with 13 seats, the Tories with 10, the New Democrats with one, and a single Independent, as well.

The Bloc had entered the campaign with 48 seats in Quebec, followed by the Liberals with 11 and the Tories with 11.

"We achieved our objective," Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe told his supporters Tuesday night in Montreal. "Without the Bloc Québécois tonight, Mr. Harper would have formed a majority government.

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Liberal Marc Garneau addresses supporters in Montreal. (CBC)

"Democracy spoke today for Quebecers, and it's clear, the Bloc Québécois is pertinent, very pertinent.

"The Québécois nation has spoken, and it's clear it can't be content with just a symbolic recognition. The Québécois nation exists. This nation has a language, and this language, it's French."

The Conservatives lost a cabinet minister. Michael Fortier, who was never elected but was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then to cabinet, went down in defeat against Bloc MP Meili Faille in the Montreal-area riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Cabinet ministers re-elected

The Bloc was also hoping to knock off Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, but he held on to his seat.

Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and Heritage Minister Josée Verner, responsible for controversial arts cuts, were also re-elected.

"What a beautiful victory," Blackburn told reporters at his campaign headquarters in the Saguenay. "We worked it and worked it, and worked it like we never have."

Among the high-profile contests, Justin Trudeau, the former prime minister's eldest son, unseated Bloc MP Vivian Barbot in the riding of Papineau to begin his foray into federal politics as a Liberal.

As well, former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau took the riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie for the Liberals against NDP candidate and former CBC Radio host Anne Lagacé-Dowson.

Former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier also sailed to victory in his Beauce riding, winning by the fourth-largest majority in the country. This, despite resigning his cabinet position after it was revealed he had left classified documents at his former girlfriend's home. 

New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair, in a close race against Liberal Sébastien Dhavernas in Outremont, managed to keep the party's sole seat in the province, which he had first won in a byelection last year.

The Independent candidate elected was Andre Arthur who kept his riding of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier near Quebec City.

Tory hopes dashed

At the beginning of the campaign, opinion polls suggested support for the Bloc had softened and that Tories were leading.

Party officials were hoping the Conservatives could pierce through in the greater Montreal area, in particular the South Shore, and build on their 2006 wins in the Quebec City region. This, they thought might double and possibly triple the 10 seats they won in 2006.

But then the decision in summer by the Tories to cut $45 million in arts and culture funding took centre stage, an issue considered close to the heart of many Quebecers.

The issue gained ground following comments by Harper that ordinary working people don't want to see a "bunch of people at a rich gala," along with a YouTube spoof video by Quebec singer Michel Rivard skewering the funding cuts.

The arts issue — combined with Conservative proposals to impose tougher sentences on young people 14 and over found guilty of serious crimes —  precipitated a decline in the polls and seemed to quash hopes for significant inroads as the party was unable to recover.

With pre-election surveys giving the Bloc around 40 per cent of the vote, the Tories turned to hoping they could hang on to the seats they had at dissolution.