Liberal's decisive win: both protest and
Montreal - "It's not only Quebec that is starting to change
tonight, it is Canada," Jean Charest declared on election night,
after voters handed his Liberals a decisive victory.
The Liberals took 76 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly.
The PQ won 45 seats, while the ADQ only grabbed four.
Charest becomes the province's 29th premier, and only the second Liberal premier
elected since 1970.
"Quebecers have given us their confidence
we will live up to it," Charest told a cheering audience of supporters
at his headquarters in Sherbrooke during his victory speech.
welcomed what he called a "mandate for change and a mandate for
But that mandate was also a rejection of Bernard Landry
and his Parti Québécois, in power the last nine years.
During the election, Landry played down sovereignty and health care,
considered obstacles to wooing soft voters who traditionally swing
between the Liberals and PQ. (Quebec's health system has had an
embattled image over the past years.)
Instead, Landry's team tried
to make the campaign about other things, such as responsible government.
Landry also focussed his sights on something new, reconciling family
life with work.
While this strategy of looking to the future had life at the start of the election campaign, it was overtaken by the sovereignty issue during the televised leaders' debatea past that exploded the PQ plan.
The day of the debate, while campaigning for the PQ, former premier Jacques Parizeau restated his infamous remarks that blamed the loss of the 1995 referendum on "money and the ethnic vote."
It resulted in a controversy that forced Parizeau to stop his campaigning for
With sovereignty topping the agenda, the ADQ continued to
slide in the polls, having a hard time convincing soft voters to buy
in to its fiscally conservative agenda. As well, Charest successfully
argued that a vote for the ADQ was really a way to keep the PQ in
Mario Dumont's party was reduced to four seats in the assembly.
The Liberal road map Charest's Liberals have an ambitious plan
that's by no means simple to implement.
The election victory means
the 44-year-old Liberal leader will have to make good on his promise
to fix the province's health-care system, his party's top priority
throughout the election campaign.
The Liberal remedy calls for investing
more than $7 billion into health within five years.
The money is earmarked
for hiring more doctors and nurses, and eliminating waiting times
in hospital emergency rooms.
The province's schools are also big winners, with the Liberals planning to increase annual spending to $12.79 billion from $11.1 billion over a six-year period.
A good portion of the education money will go to extending classroom time in the primary gradesincreasing the amount of physical education and English language instruction.
The education and health portfolios are the only two departments scheduled for increases. Otherwise, Charest plans to freeze spending in the public service.
One of the Liberal's bigger challenges will be cutting personal income taxes by $15 billion over five years. Charest says such tax relief would bring the province's tax burden in line with the rest of Canada.
But Charest will have to proceed with caution, delivering tax cuts without touching popular social programs, such as $5-a-day child care.
The Liberals do plan to reduce taxes for families with children, but the PQ loss means the idea of a four-day work week for young families is off the agenda.
And then there's the question of undoing the mergers of the province's largest
Charest said he would allow referendums on the issue where opposition
is sizeable enough to warrant it. Charest says he supports the idea
of merged cities, but that his promise is about consultation and
The Liberal victory in Quebec will also change the landscape of
federal politics. "It is not only Quebec that is starting to change
tonight, it is Canada," Charest said Monday.
He told Quebecers that his government will take a major role in the
provinces' fight for more money from the federal government, saying
that "Quebec's leadership will make Canada a stronger place."