Still, the party's leader, Mr. Legault, was elected and newcomers such as former police officer Jacques Duchesneau will enter the National Assembly, with CAQ officials promising to fight for a cleaner and smaller provincial government.
"There is hope for the future," Mr. Duchesneau said.
The fourth party, the left-wing, separatist Québec Solidaire, won two seats, one for incumbent Amir Khadir, and another for Françoise David, who benefited from the exposure she received during televised debates.
Left-wing segments of the PQ will keep Ms. Marois on a short leash, making sure the party stays on the social-democratic, “progressive” course it set during the campaign.
But the business community is expected to demand that the government deal with an economy that is shaky at best before undertaking any strategy to achieve independence. It has already expressed concern about PQ campaign promises to increase taxes on the wealthy and called a plan to raise royalties on mines a threat to northern Quebec’s mining boom.
Others are worried about the “politics of identity” that has emerged in the PQ aimed at reinforcing the French language and culture. A promise to ban the use of religious symbols in the public service (except perhaps the crucifix) sparked controversy, as did proposals to restrict francophone and ethnic community students access to English language colleges and prevent newcomers without an adequate knowledge of French from running for public office.
Ms. Marois has said a PQ government will demand that Ottawa enforce the French language charter known as Bill 101 in federally regulated companies. She also said she will seek full control over cultural and communication policies, and is expect to attack Prime Minister Stephen Harper over his “right-wing ideology” on gun control and young offenders. And the PQ leader will confront the Harper Conservatives over the tougher rules for employed insurance and demand that Quebec be given full jurisdiction over the program.
Many elements of the strategy will be deployed in the early days. And so will several social policies promised during the campaign. Ms. Marois promised that within the first hundred days of taking over, she will abolish the Liberals’ university tuition fee hikes and review the funding of post-secondary education.
Reacting to the PQ victory, Yves-Thomas Dorval, head of the Conseil du Patronat – the province’s influential business lobby – called upon Ms. Marois to reach out to Quebec’s business community and take a cautious approach in implementing aspects of the party’s platform.
“The business community needs to be reassured right now. There has been talk in some quarters of – not stopping – but slowing down investments in the event of a PQ win,” he said.
Besides the possibility of another referendum on separation, concerns include the PQs promise to impose stiffer French-language requirements on Quebec’s smaller businesses and plans to strengthen the anti-scab law, he said.
But there are also positive elements in the PQ platform, such as a promise to quickly balance the budget, he added.
While the business community outside Quebec breathed a sigh of relief that the PQ did not get a large majority, it is still worried about the implications of a separatist government.
Sasha Jacob, CEO of Toronto-based investment bank Jacob Securities Inc., said he expects little fallout from the PQ victory in the financial markets.
“The minority government is going to have them pretty constrained in terms of what can be done from a sovereignty perspective and an economic perspective,” he said, so there will likely be no knee-jerk reaction in the markets.
In addition, Mr. Jacob said, business leaders have seen PQ governments before in Quebec, and there was no economic Armageddon as a result. At the same time, the turmoil in other international markets such as Europe and middle east make Canada seem highly stable, even with a sovereigntist government in Quebec.
With reports from Bertrand Marotte, Richard Blackwell and Canadian Press