Marois declares PQ priorities as Charest resigns

Quebec premier-designate Pauline Marois has laid out her party's first orders of business: cancelling a contentious university tuition hike and the special law used to curtail protests against it.

Tuition hike and Bill 78 will be repealed, Quebec's premier-designate announces

Charest bows out

11 years ago
Duration 2:46
Quebec's premier-elect Pauline Marois discussed some of her more contentious plans for the future, but was overshadowed by the departure of her predecessor

Quebec's incoming Parti Québécois government will cancel the contentious university tuition hike that set off months of massive street protests and student unrest, premier-designate Pauline Marois says.

The PQ leader said Wednesday afternoon that her new cabinet would use an order-in-council, a type of government decree, to revoke the tuition hike put in place by the outgoing Liberals. That will avoid the need to pass legislation in the Quebec national assembly, where the Parti Québécois won only a minority of seats in Tuesday night's election victory.

Her government will also repeal Bill 78, now known as Law 12, the legislation the Liberals enacted to curtail protests during the height of the Quebec student crisis in the spring.

Both pledges were part of her party's election platform.

"Bill 78 will not exist," Marois said at a news conference in Montreal. "I'm convinced the opposition parties will be in agreement."

Other priorities she outlined include passing legislation to exclude construction companies that have been convicted of offences from getting government contracts, and expanding the province's subsidized daycare until there's a spot for every child who needs one. 

Marois also addressed the fatal shooting that occurred outside the PQ's victory celebrations and cut short her victory speech.

One person died and another was critically injured after shots were fired just outside Montreal's Metropolis nightclub, where Marois was in the middle of her remarks. A third victim was treated for shock in hospital and released.

"Yesterday's election night was deeply saddened by a tragic event. A man is dead for no good reason," Marois said.

Marois and the Parti Québécois claimed victory over the Liberals on Tuesday night, winning a minority government and ousting Premier Jean Charest after nine years in power. It was a narrow victory, however, with the PQ scoring 54 out of 125 seats in Quebec's national assembly to 50 for the Liberals. Only 0.73 percentage points separated the parties in the popular vote.

The Coalition Avenir Québec Party, with 19 seats, and Québec Solidaire, with two, hold the balance of power.

Defeated Charest resigns as Liberal leader

Jean Charest, who has been Quebec's premier since 2003, is leaving politics. At a news conference to announce his decision, he teared up while discussing his family. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Charest lost his own seat as his party went down to defeat, and on Wednesday afternoon he announced his resignation as party leader.

Charest had come out feisty in his concession speech Tuesday night, saying that as the Official Opposition to a minority government, his Liberals will have plenty to offer Quebecers.

But at Wednesday's news conference in Quebec City, he said he had consulted his family and the decision was unanimous. He will resign the Liberal leadership "in the next few days," once the new government is in place.

"I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in my public career. It's been a real privilege," he told assembled cabinet ministers and journalists.

Jean Charest

Born: June 24, 1958, in Sherbrooke, Que.

Education: Law degree, Université de Sherbrooke, 1980.

Political career: Elected to House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative MP in 1984. Became youngest-ever cabinet minister in 1986. Federal PC leader from 1995-98. Named Quebec Liberal leader in 1998. Elected premier in 2003, re-elected in 2007 and 2008.

"As a father, who will soon be a grandfather, it's as if life was sending me a signal," he added, tearing up. "From the bottom of my heart, I give a great thank-you to Quebecers. You have been marvellous."

Charest, Canada's longest-serving current premier, rose to power in 2003 following five years as Opposition leader in Quebec's national assembly. He was re-elected twice: to a minority in spring 2007, and then a second majority in December 2008.

He leaves politics after 28 years as an MP and MNA for Sherbrooke, the city in Quebec's Eastern Townships that is his birthplace.

"Never has life given me a greater honour than to be the member for Sherbrooke," Charest said in his remarks.

Liberal MNAs wanted leader to remain

The outgoing premier also addressed the fatal election-night shooting outside the PQ victory celebration in downtown Montreal, calling it a tragedy.

"When we were living through the high point of our democracy, we were witness to an event that reminds us of the fragility of our lives," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, several of his high-profile MNAs said they would still support him as leader.

"I'm loyal to my leader until the end," outgoing economic development minister Sam Hamad said. "He did an excellent job and was an excellent premier. He did the impossible for Quebec."

Outgoing transport minister Pierre Moreau called Charest a great statesman. "I would tell him, with the strongest conviction, to stay on as leader of our party."

Christine St-Pierre, the minister for culture and the status of women, labelled her leader "an extraordinary man."

"He's a passionate man. He's a man who ran a fantastic campaign. He has an immense love for Quebec," she said.

Federal Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, who served as Charest's environment minister from 2003 to 2006, said his former boss deserves admiration for the hard work and sacrifices of a long career in politics.

"He's done admirable things in his career, and we should all just wish him well," Mulcair said. "I understand he's about to be a grandfather, and he'll see that that's a life-changer as well."

Not everyone toasted the exiting Liberal chief. Quebec's federation of university students, known by its French initials FEUQ, organized many of the widespread protests against the government that seized the province for months earlier this year. In a post on Twitter, the organization branded Charest as the premier who tried to push through the 82 per cent tuition hike that sparked the student crisis.

"We made a difference," the tweet from FEUQ said.