The centre-left separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) has ended the nine-year dominance of the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), but only just. PQ leader Pauline Marois will become the Canadian province’s first woman premier. Although the PLQ’s Jean Charest lost his own constituency, the winners gained only 31.93 per cent of a 73 per cent turnout, and fell well short of the 63 seats they needed for an absolute majority in the 125-place National Assembly. Their 54 seats mean the péquistes will form a minority government. Ms Marois — whose victory speech was marred by a deadly shooting in which one person died — has said she will govern with all the other elected lawmakers. She may have little option; the PLQ’s 50 seats will give it more weight than it could have expected in opposition; its 31.2 vote-share is less than a percentage point behind PQ’s. François Legault’s third-placed Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a new party that wants the secession question put off indefinitely, won 19 seats on a 27.05 per cent share.
Unsurprisingly, Ms Marois has given no commitment on scheduling a secession referendum, although she has asserted her wish for sovereignty. Coalition compulsions may require her to rein in the party’s more radical secessionists. In any case the new government will be preoccupied with Quebec’s economic problems. The budget deficit is C$ 253 billion, 51 per cent of the province’s GDP, and unemployment at 8 per cent exceeds the national average of 7.5. When she was finance minister, Ms Marois balanced the province’s budget but that will be harder to do now, despite voter support for higher taxes on high earners. The key issues, however, may well have to do with both the political and the wider culture. Between February and June, the Charest government was rocked by massive student protests against a proposed rise in university tuition fees, and by even stronger public opposition to a bill restricting demonstrations. The protests, the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history, contributed to Mr. Charest’s eventual downfall. Not surprisingly, one of the first pledges Ms Marois made after her victory was to cancel the tuition fee increase. Secondly, the left-leaning separatist Québec Solidaire party has won two seats, and is sure to demand policy concessions in return for supporting Ms Marois. In addition, new PQ figures like the student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin, who won the election in which he voted for the first time and at 21 has become Quebec’s youngest-ever assembly member, will have an effect on the party’s ethos. Whatever else, the old days of bipolar Québécois politics are over.