A historic Quebec election that returned the Parti Québécois to power ended in tragedy Tuesday when a gunman killed one person and wounded another, then tried to start a fire at the Montreal venue where PQ Leader Pauline Marois was celebrating her minority mandate.
Police said a suspect entered a vestibule at the back of the Metropolis nightclub and fired shots, wounding two people critically. The suspect then started a fire and ran away on foot.
One shooting victim, a 45-year-old man, died at the scene. At a 6 a.m. press conference Wednesday, Montreal police said the second shooting victim, 27, was no longer in danger. Ambulance services reported another person is in hospital suffering from shock.
Montreal police spokesmen said they have arrested a 62-year-old man from Quebec, but not Montreal, who spoke French with an accent. The suspect has not been identified. Police have opened a homicide investigation and have seized two firearms. Sureté du Québec spokesman Guy Lapointe says police cannot rule out that Ms. Marois was the intended target.
“The English are waking up, the English are waking up ... It's payback ... Yeah, yeah, that’s enough,” the man said as police officers led him away in handcuffs. The suspect, a heavyset, bespectacled man, wore a balaclava, shorts and what appeared to be a bathrobe.
[Editor's note: Comments were originally open on this story. However we have now closed comments for legal reasons following the arrest of a man after people were shot and a fire was set outside the PQ victory celebration. Readers can still access comments posted earlier by clicking here.]
Ms. Marois was in the middle of her victory speech, after narrowly defeating Jean Charest’s Liberals by a handful of seats and about one percentage point in the popular vote, when several plainclothes police officers from her security detail suddenly burst on stage and pulled her away, shouting "Go with us, madam!" She later returned and spoke to the crowd.
Earlier, Ms. Marois had acknowledged the ambivalence of Quebec voters in giving her a narrow minority mandate.
"We will respect that choice by governing with all the other elected lawmakers. We'll make the necessary compromises to make the state work ... We'll govern in a responsible way."
Ms. Marois, who had been severely criticized for campaigning on identity and language themes, had some conciliatory words for Quebec's anglophone and native communities, speaking of their shared history and, in a rare move for her, speaking in English to say their rights would be respected.
However, she struck a tougher stance towards the rest of Canada.
"As a nation, we want to take ourselves the decisions that affect us. We want a country. And we'll have it."
Liberal Leader Jean Charest, the outgoing premier, lost in his riding, for the first time in a 28-year career that began when he was elected to Parliament on this day in 1984.
"The results of this election speaks to the fact the future of Quebec lies within Canada," he said. He also quipped that, "I want to thank the activists of the Liberal party who once again proved the polls wrong."
In his concession speech, Mr. Charest boasted that his party "will leave the house in good order."
Mr. Charest predicted that the Liberals would bounce back. Pointing an index up, he noted that there was "one percentage point in the popular vote between us (and the PQ)."
He made no comments about his political future. A press conference is scheduled for Wednesday.
In a statement issued early Wednesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office, he said: “We are disturbed by this violence and our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.”
Earlier, Mr. Harper congratulated Ms. Marois — then delivered a pointed barb aimed at the independence project. “We don’t believe Quebeckers want to reopen the old constitutional quarrels of the past,” he said in a statement.
“Our government will remain focused on jobs, economic growth and good economic management. We believe economic issues and jobs are also the priority of Quebeckers. In that sense, we will continue working with the Government of Quebec on those common objectives.”
Mr. Harper also thanked Mr. Charest for his “leadership and devotion to Quebeckers.”
The Liberals, who were facing the spectre of finishing in third place, still managed to keep 50 seats, despite gaining only 31.7 per cent of the votes, an even lower percentage than their previous major defeat, the 1976 election when Robert Bourassa also lost his seat and was forced into political exile.
The PQ’s victory could usher a new phase of confrontations in the national unity debate, though Ms. Marois lacklustre performance raised questions about her ability to carry its secessionist agenda further.
The PQ was elected in 54 ridings, short of the 63 needed for a majority, while the Liberals clinched 50 seats and the CAQ won in 19 ridings.
Legislature speaker Jacques Chagnon, a Liberal, is expected to seek the job again, consolidating the PQ's margin in the National Assembly.
Throughout the campaign, CAQ Leader François Legault repeatedly rejected any possibility of his party striking an alliance with another party in the event of a minority government.
“Quebeckers have decided to keep the new government on a tight leash. They gave the PQ a minority government. It is our responsibility to keep an eye on that party,” Mr. Legault told supporters.
“A few percentage points would have tipped a lot of ridings our way ... We are now an unavoidable political force,” said Mr. Legault, whose party pledges to promote neither federalism nor sovereignty for the next 10 years
The three parties were closer in the breakdown of the percentage of votes, underlining that support for both Liberals and CAQ was close to the PQ but remained concentrated in a smaller number of ridings.
The tight race also raised questions about the PQs’ ability to stage a series of constitutional and financial battles with Ottawa to help build its case for sovereignty once it returns to power.
The PQ started the campaign with the support of 33-per cent of voters and that’s where it stood on election night. Ms. Marois was never able to break the barrier into majority government territory.
Within the coming weeks, Ms. Marois will form a cabinet, outline her offensive against Ottawa and, behind closed doors, evaluate when, if ever, it will be possible to hold another referendum on sovereignty.
Ms. Marois’ every move will be carefully monitored by those in the party who have become impatient over the issue of sovereignty. But with a minority government the PQ leader’s hand are tied, paralyzing any desire within the sovereignty movement to pressure Ms. Marois into holding another referendum.
Newly elected members such as party advisor Jean-François Lisée, former journalist Pierre Duchesne and former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin who at 21 makes him the youngest candidate ever elected to the National Assembly, will change the face of a caucus marked in recent years by deep divisions and dissent.
But before Ms. Marois can even consider undertaking the herculean task of reviving nationalist sentiment in the province, she will face more pressing matters. Quebec has the largest public debt of any province – almost $253-billion or 51 per cent of its gross domestic product.
These are issues the two major opposition parties will push hard on the new PQ government. But given the devastating blow handed to the Liberals and their leader, Mr. Charest, the once-ruling party will be too busy regrouping and choosing another leader that with trying to defeat the PQ.
Mr. Charest lost in a tight fight in his Sherbrooke riding against Serge Cardin, the area’s former Bloc Québécois MP until he was bounced by the NDP Orange Wave in last year’s federal election.
Even after the vote, the Liberals’ troubles are likely to continue. The party could face further setbacks later this fall with the resumption of the Charbonneau commission, a public inquiry into corruption and bid-rigging in public works contracts.
The mood was also sombre at CAQ headquarters as star candidates such as doctor Gaétan Barrette were defeated and the party's hoped-for breakthrough in the 450 area code around Montreal did not materialize.
The party placed second in opinion polls at the end of the campaign, but the results did not live up to expectations.
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