VOTERS in Quebec have delivered a resounding defeat to the pro-independence Parti Quebecois in elections in the Canadian province.
The Liberal Party, who are staunchly in favour of Quebec staying in Canada, won 70 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats after polling 41.5 per cent of the vote.
The Party Quebecois won 30 seats with just over a quarter of the total vote. The Coalition for Quebec’s Future, which downplayed the sovereignty issue to focus on the economy, was close behind with 23.1 percent and 22 seats.
The vote has been seen as a mortal blow to the prospect of a third referendum on independence for the French-speaking province.
The result will allow the Liberal Party to form a majority government less than 18 months after voters had booted the party from power for the first time in nine years amid allegations of corruption.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who led a minority government, called the snap election last month in hopes of securing a majority for her PQ party. But the campaign stirred up speculation that a PQ majority would ultimately lead to another referendum on independence from Canada, an idea that has lacked support in recent years.
Fears of a referendum galvanized supporters of the Liberals. Marois suffered a humiliating defeat, even losing her own seat, and announced that she would step down as party leader.
Marois said: “The defeat of our party tonight without a doubt saddens me as much as you, if not more than you.
“I am leaving my post.”
Marois had tried to play down the possibility of a referendum, hoping to focus on the PQ’s proposed “charter of values,” a controversial but popular measure that would ban public employees from wearing Muslim headscarves and other overt religious symbols.
PQ candidate, multi-millionaire media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau, spark controversy with his declaration of his commitment to “make Quebec a country.”
Peladeau, who won his district, congratulated Liberal leader and new premier Philippe Couillard.
Couillard, a former brain surgeon and ex-Liberal health minister, has vowed to return the Canadian flag to the legislature. The PQ has always removed the flag when elected.
‘Division is over’
At his victory rally, Couillard urged Quebeckers to “focus on what brings us together.”
Couillard told supporters: “Let us say together, with passion, we’re all proud of being Quebeckers. My friends, division is over. Reconciliation begins. “
With the PQ out, Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t have to worry about a national unity crisis as he heads toward the 2015 federal election.
Harper said the results “clearly demonstrate that Quebeckers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation.”
Quebec has had two referendums on sovereignty. The last such vote, in 1995, narrowly rejected independence.
Quebec, with a population of over 8 million, is 80 percent French-speaking. It sets its own income tax, has its own immigration policy favoring French speakers, and has legislation prioritizing French over English.
But many Quebecois have long dreamed of an independent Quebec, with worries about the survival of their language in English-speaking North America.
John Zucchi, a professor of history at Montreal’s McGill University, said the PQ defeat is a serious blow to the separatist movement.
Prof Zucchi said: “I think separatism is going to go on the backburner for quite a while, perhaps a generation.
“In these difficult times the people of Quebec have to face many serious issues regarding work, the economy, regarding an uncertain future and they know that separatism is not the magic solution.”
The election outcome is also likely to bury the PQ’s hopes of passing the charter of values, which the Liberals oppose.
Marois had hoped that the proposed law would electrify French-speaking voters in swing regions, where many feel the bill aims to preserve Quebec’s fundamental values, including the equality of men and women and the separation of church and state.
Ban on religious headwear proposed
The law would forbid government employees from wearing Muslim headscarves, Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans and larger-than-average crucifixes. It would also prohibit citizens from covering their faces while receiving public services, such as applying for driver’s licenses, for the purpose of identification.
Protests against the proposal have drawn thousands of Muslims, Sikhs and Jews to Montreal’s streets to denounce what they call an affront on religious freedom.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau applauded the Quebecois for saying no to the charter.
“I had the utmost confidence that Quebec voters would reject the negative, divisive politics of Ms. Marois’ proposed plan,” Trudeau said in a statement. “I am proud that my fellow Quebeckers have chosen unity and acceptance as we move forward together.”
The provincial Liberal party of Quebec was previously haunted by allegations of corruption that tainted their nine years in power. But Couillard hammered away at the referendum issue and framed the election as a choice between uncertainty and stability.
Marois became Quebec’s first female premier in Quebec’s last election in September 2012, but her victory rally was marred by a deadly shooting.
A man opened fire outside the Montreal theater where the rally was being held, killing a stage hand and wounding another.
The masked gunman, wearing a bathrobe, was shown on television ranting and shouting “The English are waking up!” in French as police dragged him away. Richard Henry Bain has been charged with first-degree murder and is awaiting trial.