Quebec Liberals search for answers after historic defeat

Quebec Liberals are searching for answers after a historically poor result in Monday's election that saw them lose with the lowest share of the popular vote in the party's history.

'At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, voters sometimes get it wrong:' D'Arcy-McGee MNA David Birnbaum

Quebec's Liberal Leader Phillipe Couillard is home doing some soul-searching for the next few days, as his party begins doing the same thing, figuring out what led to such a resounding defeat Monday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec Liberals are searching for answers after a historically poor result in Monday's election that saw them lose with the lowest share of the popular vote in the party's history.

The Quebec Liberal Party was hit harder than polls predicted — clinging to Montreal ridings but not much else — while the seven-year-old Coalition Avenir Québec took most of the rest of the province.

Now, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard is taking a few days to decide whether he will stay on as leader, as his party tries to figure out what went wrong and how to move forward as the Official Opposition to a majority government that capitalized on the electorate's desire for change.

With the Parti Québécois decimated and the Coalition Avenir Québec setting aside the debate over sovereignty, the Liberals need to find a new raison d'être.

"What I think is important is that we are true to who we are — the values," said Dominique Anglade, former deputy premier and economic development minister.

Former deputy premier Dominique Anglade demurred when asked if she could replace Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard should he resign, saying she wanted to give him time to think. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"That's what really attracted me to the Liberal Party, is the set of values that guide the decisions we make," she said.

"That's really the only thing that matters at this point."

Anglade won her riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne in southwest Montreal comfortably, by more than 3,000 votes. Her name has been floated as a possible replacement for Couillard, but she said she wasn't thinking about that now.

Anglade came to the Liberals after serving as president of the CAQ from 2012 to 2013.

"There's not a day I regret leaving the CAQ for the Liberal Party. Not a single day," she said.

Liberals have work cut out for them

David Birnbaum, re-elected in the west end riding of D'Arcy-McGee, says he's worried about what lies ahead for his party, facing the CAQ at the National Assembly.

"At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, voters sometimes get it wrong," Birnbaum said Tuesday on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Birnbaum said the Liberals will have their work cut out for them if the CAQ government presses ahead with electoral promises like scrapping school boards and reducing the number of immigrants.

"I worry a little bit about access to English health care," he said. "We have a lot to do in opposition."

David Birnbaum was re-elected in D'Arcy-McGee, but voter turnout in the riding was dismal, with just 47 per cent of eligible voters turning up at the polls. (Quebec Liberal Party)

Birnbaum won 74 per cent of the vote in D'Arcy-McGee, which includes Côte-Saint-Luc, Hampstead and part of the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.

The riding had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the province: a mere 47 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared to 72 per cent in 2014.

'We really have to take a hard look at ourselves'

Like Birnbaum, most Liberal MNAs on the island of Montreal did keep their seats, including Kathleen Weil in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Pierre Arcand, the former MNA for Mont-Royal, elected in the new riding of ​Mont-Royal–Outremont.

The drop in voter turnout was dramatic in all of those ridings.

In the West Island riding of Jacques-Cartier, for example, 65 per cent of eligible voters showed up at the polls, compared to 81 per cent four years ago.

Greg Kelley, who will replace his father and longtime Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley as the Liberal MNA in Jacques-Cartier, said it's clear voters wanted change, but the party will have to do a lot of reflecting on how to move forward.

"We really have to take a hard look at ourselves and say, 'What did we do wrong the last couple years and on the campaign trail?'" Kelley said Tuesday.

Greg Kelley, who replaces his father, Geoff Kelley, as MNA for Jacques-Cartier, said the Liberals have a lot of work to do, reflecting on why voters deserted them in such large numbers. (CBC)

Liberals to play watchdog role: Leitão

Former finance minister Carlos Leitão pointed to other recent political upheavals within the country. 

"We've seen waves like this happen in recent times, both at the federal [level] and in other provinces as well," Leitão said, speaking to CBC News Monday night.

Just three months ago, Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative party was elected with a majority government in Ontario, despite polls indicating a much tighter race. Ford ran on promises to backtrack on Liberal initiatives on the environment and climate change, education and social services.

"We have 32 seats. That's enough to form a coherent and strong opposition, and that's what we'll be doing," he said.

"We'll be following [the CAQ] very closely, making sure they stick to their plan and that they don't waste the work that we did over the past four years."

Leitão said he was proud of the work his cabinet had done to create a stable and thriving economy.

Federal Liberal Marc Garneau told Daybreak whatever it was that prompted such a decisive rejection, "I sensed that [voters] felt it was time for change."

"Sometimes it doesn't turn out the way you hoped it would work out, but there's sort of a collective wisdom among people. They are the ones who make the decision."

With files from Kate McKenna and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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