Federal leaders and MPs say they will work with Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois, but that her minority victory shows a majority of Quebecers aren't interested in sovereignty.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office said Wednesday he spoke by phone with Marois and offered his congratulations. Industry Minister Christian Paradis spoke on behalf of the government later in the day and said despite the separatist party's win, it's "business as usual."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and opposition MPs reacted to the provincial election results Wednesday morning at their caucus meetings.
"There are cycles in Quebec electoral life. Yesterday, Quebecers voted to change their government," said Mulcair, a former cabinet minister under Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest. The incumbent premier lost his seat Tuesday night.
Mulcair said Marois won a minority and is being called upon to govern for all Quebecers. He noted that he spoke with Marois and the other party leaders Tuesday night and that he intends to work with Marois "on issues of common interest."
"I've said since the beginning of this campaign that my job is going to be to work with whoever gets elected," he told reporters in St. John's. He knows the PQ well from his days in provincial politics, Mulcair added.
The NDP leader said he doesn't expect Marois to rush to a referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
"With the shortened minority that's been granted to the Parti Québécois, we're going to probably see a minority government trying to govern the province in the public interest much more than going for the brass ring of other big constitutional changes. I don't see that as being in the cards right now," he said.
Mulcair also said that Canadians shouldn't forget that Quebecers gave the NDP – "a strong federalist voice" – a majority of federal seats in last year's election. He said his party's strength in the province is an advantage given last night's results. But he acknowledged that the PQ win will also throw off his party's plans for growth in Quebec.
The NDP doesn't have a provincial wing in Quebec and while there is strong demand for one, said Mulcair, it's "less likely" to get off the ground while there is a minority government ruling the province.
"We're not going to be on standby for the next six months, or 12 months, or 18 months in a minority government situation," he said.
Rae says PQ is divisive
Rae said the PQ leader didn't receive a mandate to pursue a separatist agenda.
"That's clear in the results. But we will all make an effort to work with the government that was chosen by the Quebec people," he said at his party's caucus meeting in Montebello, Que.
Rae said the PQ's mandate is divisive for Quebec and for Canada, and that he agrees with the statement issued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper following the election results.
"We do not believe that Quebecers wish to revisit the old constitutional battles of the past," Harper said in his statement. The prime minister also congratulated Marois on her victory.
Harper and Marois spoke by phone Wednesday, according to the Prime Minister's Office. He told the premier designate that he is saddened by the shooting that took place at her victory event in Montreal, and that "such acts of violence are inexcusable and have no place in Canada."
His office also said that Harper spoke to Marois about the importance of the two levels of government working together "in areas where they share common objectives, so as to respond to Quebecers' and Canadians' concerns, and foster continued stability, economic growth and job creation."
Harper will 'join forces' with Quebec on economy
It also said: "The prime minister added that in the interest of both Quebec and Canada, he plans to join forces with the Quebec government to implement measures aimed at growing the Quebec economy, with each remaining within its respective jurisdictional boundaries."
Harper will meet with Marois, just like he meets with other premiers, according to the industry minister. Paradis said the Conservative government will act in good faith toward the PQ government and will maintain its approach of open federalism that respects Quebec's jurisdiction.
"It's business as usual. We want to work with the government of Quebec on common ground," he said. Paradis said he thinks voters are fed up with hearing about constitutional squabbles and instead are worried about their futures.
"I don't think Quebecers want to hear about a referendum," the Quebec MP said.
Paradis said the government will wait and see what demands Marois may make of Ottawa. During the campaign, Marois signalled several times that she would be demanding more power from Ottawa for social programs, culture and foreign development.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley shunned any suggestions of changing the way employment insurance is managed, pointing instead to the ways the government has made the program more flexible to respond to provincial demands.
"Employment insurance has been federal jurisdiction since 1940," she told The Canadian Press in an interview. Finley said she is happy to work with Marois on common goals.
"Our focus is on growing the economy and making sure …that employers have the skills and labour that they need to succeed in the global market," Finley added. "That's the emphasis. That's in the best interest of each and every province. We're willing to work with anyone who is working towards that goal."
Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Charest when he remarked on the election results.
"Certainly Quebecers and Quebec voted for change which gives us an opportunity to thank Jean Charest for 28 years of service to both his province and his country – a service he did with ability and passion," said Trudeau. "But now as we move forward, we're going to have a national assembly that will have a lot of conversations as it tries to pull together all Quebecers.
Trudeau said he is taking Marois at her word when she said in her victory speech that she will be a premier for all Quebecers.
Stéphane Dion, another Liberal MP from Quebec, said voters weren't satisfied with Charest's government but that the vast majority of them support Canadian unity.
He said the minority result should serve as a caution to Marois to "not implement the most radical aspect of her platform."
At the NDP caucus, MP Ryan Cleary said he watched the results surrounded by a number of Quebec MPs who all had different reactions.
"I found it fascinating to listen to the Quebec MPs," he said. But the Newfoundland and Labrador MP wouldn't elaborate on the kinds of comments his colleagues made.
More than half of the NDP's caucus is made up of Quebec MPs.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty offered reaction to Quebec's election and said the two provinces have always worked together, "regardless of political affiliations," to build better lives for their citizens, and will continue to do so.
"The people of our two provinces are much more than neighbours. We are friends who have forged a successful partnership – one that strengthens both our economies and enriches both our cultures," he said in a statement.
He also paid tribute to his fellow Liberal premier, calling Charest a friend and strong partner for Ontario.