Last ballots cast in Quebec provincial election
Polls are readying to close in Quebec as the last voters make their way to mark their ballots in the province's hotly-contested general election.
Quebec voter turnout is up compared to the last provincial election, despite a few power outages and temporary closures at polling stations in Montreal.
The Quebec director-general of elections said that as of 11:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, 8.68 per cent of Quebecers had voted, compared to 5.82 per cent in 2008.
With the advance polling turnout, that means 25 per cent of Quebecers have already voted.
Voter turnout hit new lows the last time Quebecers went to the polls to elect a provincial government. According to the province's chief electoral officer, in 2008 only 57 per cent of people who could vote did.
More than 50 people were lined up outside a polling station in Montreal's Mercier riding Tuesday morning before its doors opened, many holding voter reminder cards.
With major polling firms reporting that about 10 per cent of voters remained undecided in the days leading up to the vote — and more than 20 per cent of decided voters were open to changing their minds at the ballot box — the outcome has become impossible to predict.
The election call came on Aug.1, in the midst of the province's annual construction holiday when a quarter of all Quebecers go on vacation.
But observers who suggested that a summer election campaign could have translated into lacklustre interest and a poor turnout at the ballot box may be proven wrong.
By the close of advance polling on Aug. 30, almost a million people — 16.6 per cent of all registered voters — turned up to cast their ballots.
Close to 5 million eligible to vote
Polling stations throughout Quebec open at 9:30 a.m. ET and close at 8 p.m.
There are 19,680 polling stations in all, and every registered voter should have received a reminder card explaining where to vote.
Any voter unsure of what polling station to go to can visit the website of Quebec's chief electoral officer, monvote.qc.ca.
Full coverage of election results
CBC-TV's election special begins at 7:30 p.m. on CBC Montreal and CBC News Network. It will also be livestreamed at Quebec Votes 2012.
CBC Radio's election special will be carried on all Quebec stations of CBC Radio One, starting at 7:30 p.m., and can also be livestreamed at Quebec Votes 2012.
CBC's political analyst Bernard St-Laurent will be blogging throughout the special at Quebec Votes 2012.
And join our Live Chat with CBC writer-broadcaster Shawn Apel. Go to Quebec Votes 2012.
Student protests start, end campaign
Quebec's 40th general election comes on the heels of the province's raucous student crisis over tuition increases — an issue that gripped the province during the winter and into spring.
Liberal Leader Jean Charest launched his campaign on Aug. 1 — a date which marked the 100th straight night of protests —on a theme of stability, hoping that voters would reward him for standing up to striking students.
Student protests did occasionally, however, force Charest to cancel campaign events or change venues.
Indeed, on Monday evening — just 12 hours before the polls opened — pot-banging protesters surrounded the Quebec Liberal party's campaign bus in the Villeray district of Montreal, before moving on to join hundreds of others in a march down St-Denis Street.
But that outburst of the student protest movement remained largely peaceful, and the angry mob expected to dog the Liberal leader throughout the campaign rarely materialized.
Charest's focus: jobs and stability
During the campaign, Jean Charest tried to keep the focus on the economy and job creation, peddling his Plan Nord — a scheme to invest $80 billion in private and public energy and resource projects in northern Quebec over the next quarter century.
He argued that a Quebec run by the Parti Québécois or the fledgling Coalition Avenir Québéc would mean economic and constitutional uncertainty as well as clashes with Ottawa.
Legault's theme: cleaning house
CAQ Leader François Legault began his campaign with a plan to weed out corruption and collusion.
He ended it on the same note, in the riding of St-Jérôme north of Montreal where his star candidate, former Montreal police chief and anti-corruption investigator Jacques Duchesneau, is running in a hotly contested race.
"The motivation is really about my two children," Legault told supporters. "I think that right now I'm not proud of what we're leaving to them."
Legault has campaigned to cut thousands of public sector jobs, eliminate school boards and find every Quebecer a family doctor within a year.
Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and sovereigntist hardliner, promised to avoid another referendum on sovereignty, arguing that Quebecers do not want one.
Marois would work towards sovereignty
Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has said a PQ government would work toward sovereignty — taking back powers from Ottawa in areas such as immigration. She's made Quebec's linguistic and cultural identity a key issue in the campaign, to the delight of sovereigntist hardliners.
Pushing for sovereignty has been called a gamble by some, with some polls suggesting the majority of Quebecers have little desire to face another referendum.
But should the gamble pay off and voters respond to her appeal, the PQ leader could find herself Quebec's first woman premier — and a step closer to her goal of making Quebec an independent country.
Quebecers urged to 'follow their hearts'
Québec Solidaire ended its campaign with a prediction that it would see as many as five of its candidates win a seat in the national assembly, up from one in the last session, and a call to voters to "follow their hearts."
Party co-spokesperson Françoise David is hoping to win her seat in Montreal's Gouin riding, but she's up against a popular Parti Québécois incumbent.
David said some English-speaking citizens recently visited her at the campaign office.
"They told me, 'We are not sovereignists, but we love you. Because of your social program, we will vote for you,'" said David.
Québec Solidaire is a sovereignist party, but throughout the campaign, candidates have repeatedly emphasized that their vision of Quebec includes all kinds of people.
With files from The Canadian Press