The results of the Quebec election are bad news for the winners. Pauline Marois and the Parti Québecois expected to win a majority (63 seats) of the 125 seats. Instead, they fell short (55 seats) winning only 32 per cent of the vote, the second lowest PQ share of the popular vote in the nine elections, since forming government for the first time in 1976 with 41 per cent of the vote.
Voter turnout was impressive at more than 73 per cent, sharply up from the last election when it was less than 60 per cent.
Preparing for the Sept. 4 election the PQ believed they had a majority, and this led them to made a strategic mistake: they campaigned to establish themselves as championing the sovereignty option, believing a strong nationalist message would give them leverage in negotiations with Ottawa.
The idea was that if the PQ campaigned without putting sovereignty forward, it would give Stephen Harper a good reason to ignore any PQ demands for new powers.
The PQ and Pauline Marois had the programme and the experience needed to provide voters with an alternative to a very unpopular Liberal government. But the PQ campaign, by focusing on sovereignty, especially in the early going, raised a doubt. Did the PQ want to govern, or to promote sovereignty? This gave those who only wanted a change in government, an incentive to vote for the fledgling CAQ (Coalition for the Future of Quebec) which won 27 per cent of the popular vote, and 20 seats in its first campaign.
The surprise of the evening was the strength of the Liberal vote at 31 per cent. Most observers thought the outgoing government would finish third, not second. Leader Jean Charest went down to defeat in his own riding, but his party won 46 seats, and only trailed the PQ by one percentage point in the popular vote.
The exciting news was the election of Françoise David a noted feminist and social activist with a world wide reputation, who joins Amir Khadir to become the second Québec Solidaire Member of the National Assembly (MNA). David indicated the QS was ready to support the PQ, if the PQ wanted to introduce progressive policies, and saluted Pauline Marois, about to become the first woman to be premier of the province.
Leading PQ strategist, and newly elected MNA, Jean-François Lisée compared the situation facing Pauline Marois to that of Stephen Harper and his 2008 minority government. For Lisée, unless both the Liberals and the CAQ agree to defeat the PQ, Pauline Marois will be able to get legislation adopted. Much as the Federal Liberals were not ready to join the NDP and defeat Harper, the Quebec Liberals will not be interested in a rematch election, at least until the Charest leadership question is settled.
The outgoing Liberal premier indicated he would reflect on the results, and comment on his political future in the days following the election.
The election of the PQ and Pauline Marois means that people on social assistance or working in the health care sector, who deserve a better understanding of their situation, are likely to get a good hearing from a premier who has a background in social services work, and is a former Minister of Health.
Public servants can expect a respectful attitude from a government headed by one of the most experienced political figures ever to occupy the first ministers office in Canada.
There should be no union busting from the new government.
Look for Quebec pension plan funds managed by the Caisse de Dépôt to be deployed in favour of economic development objectives within Quebec, not rate of return maximization goals currently being pursued by the financial giant.
The Quebec student movement see their main opponent, Jean Charest, defeated; and a party wearing the red square in support of their objectives, elected. The Liberal tuition hikes are dead, and the oppressive Bill 78 will be history. A bonus was the election for the PQ of student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin, who at 20 will be the youngest MNA in history.
Pauline Marois led her party into this election after facing serious internal opposition, including from those who supported a break-away party, Option Nationale (which showed poorly). Her task is to unite her caucus, and convince public opinion her party deserves a majority in the next election, which few doubt will be take place soon.
Her election creates tensions in Quebec, and her speech was interrupted by a security incident, just as she was calling on her supporters to maintain their sovereignty faith.
Quebec election 2012 settled very little, and leaves the future open.
Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
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