Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée has received a resounding vote of confidence from party delegates leading into the next provincial election, which is just over a year away.
A total of 92.8 per cent of party delegates who participated in the leadership review on Saturday cast a vote in his favour.
"The Parti Québécois is united, the Parti Québécois is strong, the Parti Québécois is worthy of confidence," a smiling Lisée said after the result was announced.
The score, higher than many expected, was splashed across the screen at Montreal's Palais des Congrès as supporters cheered and waved Quebec flags.
About 1,500 delegates were eligible to vote in the review and 96.4 per cent participated.
Normally, a confidence vote for a political leader heading into an election year would be a given. But the PQ, the province's main pro-independence party, is known for bringing down its leaders.
Lisée, a longtime backroom adviser, has had his share of struggles in his short tenure at the helm. He won the leadership a year ago with only 50.6 per cent of the vote, following the resignation of media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau.
He has faced criticism, in particular, from PQ hardliners for saying he won't hold a referendum on independence in his first term if he wins the Oct. 1, 2018 election.
Instead, he has contended the cause would be better served by laying the groundwork for a vote in 2022.
Calls for 'stability'
The leadership review — held at the request of more than two dozen riding associations — comes as the PQ struggles in the polls, trailing not just the governing Liberals but also the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
The CAQ, led by François Legault, has made inroads with an emphasis on identity issues, including a promise to impose stricter immigration laws amid a wave of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec.
The PQ also faces a challenge on the left from Québec Solidaire, which holds three seats in the legislature and has a charismatic new spokesperson in former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
As delegates cast their ballots on Saturday, Raymond Archambault, the PQ's outgoing president, urged them to set aside their divisions and present a united front ahead of the election.
"I think the Parti Québécois needs stability. We have been through some very, very difficult periods since 2011: two election campaigns, two leadership campaigns," he said.
The result, which neared the party's gold standard of 93.1 per cent set by Pauline Marois in 2011, will help assuage those concerns.
Véronique Hivon, the PQ MNA for Joliette and a past rival of Lisée for the leadership, said the vote "means that we will be a very strong force" heading into the election.
"I would say it's even above the expectations because often, we say, at the Parti Québécois, well, they're so tough on their leaders," she said.
Playing to his base
In the days leading up to the vote, Lisée tried to appeal to his party's sovereignist base and those enticed by the CAQ, saying that a PQ government would impose tougher border controls and curtail funding for English-language junior colleges, known by their French acronym, CEGEPs.
He walked back the latter suggestion on Friday, saying the PQ would prioritize French-language CEGEPs and ensure English courses were available at those institutions.
"If we can provide good English mastery in French CEGEPS, well, a number of people who have chosen English CEGEPs in the past will come to French CEGEPs," Lisée said.
A proposal to prioritize French CEGEPs, however, is among those that will be put to a vote on Sunday, to determine whether it will be adopted as part of its party platform.
How much did he need?
Under party rules, Lisée needed over 50 per cent of the vote to stay on as leader. But in reality he needed more than that.
Former premier Bernard Landry famously set an 80 per cent target for his leadership test in 2005.
He stepped down after falling just short of that number, with a confidence vote of 76.2 per cent.