Despite Bloc's comeback, Quebec helps propel Liberals to minority government
'I heard your message tonight,' Trudeau tells Quebecers after Bloc bounces back
Quebecers are making sense of a divided province today, with the Liberals maintaining a strong presence in the federal election, even as the Bloc Québécois enjoy a resurgence in popularity.
The Liberals won 35 ridings, the Bloc 32 and the Conservatives 10 in Monday's vote. The NDP was reduced to a single seat: the party's Quebec lieutenant, Alexandre Boulerice, won a third term in the riding of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie.
Historically viewed as a crucial battleground, Quebec once again featured prominently throughout the election, with heated debate on issues ranging from the banning of religious symbols to the placement of future pipelines.
The Liberals took 40 of the province's 78 seats in the 2015 election, helping to propel Justin Trudeau to a comfortable majority government.
This time around, the Liberals faced a much tougher test from the Bloc. The sovereignist party gained momentum under leader Yves-François Blanchet, who easily took his riding of Beloeil-Chambly on Montreal's South Shore.
In so doing, he helped lead the party back to relevance after it was limited to 10 seats in the last election and only four in 2011.
During the campaign, Blanchet vowed to fend off any federal government challenge to Bill 21, the province's religious symbols law, to block any attempt by the government in Ottawa to approve a new pipeline that would go through the province, and to vote against any attempt at abolishing the carbon tax.
"We propose to be the voice of the Quebec nation," Blanchet said before a boisterous crowd in Montreal.
To chants of "On veut un pays," (We want a country), he replied, "I do, too."
But he said sovereignty would have to wait.
"It's not part of our mandate," he said. "We have to learn how to relisten to Quebecers, in that perspective."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who comfortably won his Montreal riding of Papineau, argued throughout the campaign the Liberals would best represent Quebecers in Ottawa as a progressive government that would defend their environmental concerns.
His message appears to have been effective, even if his own popularity was a question mark. Many high-profile Liberal candidates were re-elected, including cabinet ministers Marc Garneau and Mélanie Joly.
Environmentalist Steven Guilbeault, one of the party's star candidates, was also elected in Laurier–Saint-Marie, a Montreal riding that hasn't gone Liberal since 1988.
In his victory speech, speaking in French, Trudeau said, "I heard your message tonight," and promised to represent the interests of Quebec in Ottawa.
Until the wee hours of vote counting, it appeared the NDP's Ruth Ellen Brosseau might win her seat Berthier-Maskinongé for a third term, but the popular Brosseau — a parachute candidate in 2011 who was easily re-elected four years later — lost to the Bloc's Yves Perron in a tight race.
That reduced the New Democrats to a single seat in Quebec, after winning 59 of 78 seats only two elections ago. That's despite NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's promise to hand the province more powers and more social services.
Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban, struggled to gain traction in the province, even though he said he wouldn't interfere in a court challenge against Bill 21.
Singh told a crowd in British Columbia, where he won his riding of Burnaby South, that he "won't abandon Quebec" and that he wants to unite progressive movements across the country.
"We will continue to have a presence there. I will have a presence there," he said in French.
Conservatives lose ground
The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer put an emphasis on strong local candidates and lower taxes in the hope of winning over new voters.
But he struggled during the French-language debates to defend his past comments on abortion and his plan to create a Canada-wide "energy corridor."
In the end, the Conservatives were unable to make inroads in the province and saw themselves lose ground compared to 2015, when they won 12 seats in Quebec.
The party dropped two seats to the Bloc Québécois in the Quebec City area.
Gerard Deltell, who was re-elected for a fifth term in the Louis-St-Laurent riding, says the results reflect the diversity of opinion within the capital.
"We have three parties representing the Quebec City area, as we have at the National Assembly," he said Monday night.
"We have to keep that in mind. As far as I'm concerned, Quebec has never been monolithic."
Maxime Bernier, who formed the right-wing People's Party of Canada after losing out in the Conservative leadership race, lost his riding of Beauce.
Conservative Richard Lehoux, a former local mayor who comes from long line of dairy farmers, took the riding.