The Parti Québécois was crushingly rejected by voters on Monday in an election that pushed a dominant political force in Quebec for the past 50 years to the margins of the province’s political landscape.
The party whose sovereigntist agenda had politically dominated Quebec – and by extension, the entire country – for five decades had been reduced to only nine seats in the legislature, according to results at 11:30 p.m. ET. That’s three seats short of the number required for official party status in the National Assembly.
It raises questions not just about the future of the party, but the independence project that stands at the cornerstone of its existence.
It will also set the party on a hunt for a new leader − its 10th since the party was created − after Jean-François Lisée lost his Montreal seat of Rosemont and announced he is stepping down.
“We don’t have the result tonight that we had hoped for,” he told dejected supporters in the party’s election-night headquarters. “I take a large part of the responsibility for today’s result.”
Across the province, PQ strongholds were falling as nationalist voters who once formed the bedrock of the party’s support turned to the Coalition Avenir Québec instead.
The PQ was struggling to keep a foothold in Montreal, where it was poised to be wiped off the electoral map.
The shifting political winds also swept ridings in suburban Montreal that had nearly mythical status for the PQ. Taillon, a suburban riding on the South Shore of Montreal, was represented over the years by premiers René Lévesque and Pauline Marois. The PQ’s incumbent, Diane Lamarre, lost to the CAQ’s Lionel Carmant, a political neophyte.
The riding of Lac-Saint-Jean has been a sovereigntist stronghold where an overwhelming 73 per cent of voters cast ballots for the “Yes” side in the 1995 referendum. Voters returned the PQ candidate to office there at every election but the PQ lost the seat to the CAQ on Monday by more than 2,000 votes.
The one bright spot for the party was the victory of deputy leader Véronique Hivon in her riding of Joliette.
But the party failed to attain the 12 seats, or 20 per cent of the vote, to obtain official party status.
The mood at PQ electoral headquarters was funereal. The few supporters who showed up were shaken by the party’s poor showing.
Voters like Nicole Daigle, at 51 a lifelong PQ supporter, said she felt pained by the party’s results.
“It hurts my Québécois soul,” she said, putting her hand over her heart. “It hurts my Quebec pride. We’re certainly not going to see sovereignty in the short term.”
The election became a moment of reckoning for the PQ, which was founded 50 years ago with a dream to create an independent Quebes. The results showed that the party couldn’t stop the slide in its popular vote that began in the late 1990s.
Once upon a time, the PQ would sweep elections with 49 per cent of the vote. Charismatic leaders such as Mr. Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard rallied many Quebeckers to the cause of independence and kept federalist leaders up at night. In 1995, in the second referendum on separation, voters in the province came within a hair’s breadth of splitting up Canada.
At about 11:30 p.m. ET on Monday night, the PQ’s support had dipped to slightly more than 17 per cent.
The vote shows that Mr. Lisée, despite his long experience as a strategist, wasn’t able to pull off a victory for his party. The long-time PQ backroom adviser started the race with a gamble: delay a referendum for at least four years to try to pull in voters weary of the sovereignty debate.
He led an energetic and spirited campaign, but polls suggest his support eroded after an unscripted attack on rival Manon Massé of Québec solidaire in the final televised debate. His recriminations against the popular Ms. Massé and accusations that the party held a secret Marxist agenda sat poorly with voters.
The PQ ended up shedding support to Québec solidaire, which was winning over a younger generation that had begun decamping from the PQ and its sovereignty ideal.
In the end, it was unclear whether the party would pull in enough voters to justify its political usefulness.
Mr. Lisée told supporters on Monday night the PQ would live to fight another day, but it’s unclear whether it will disprove the predictions that it is the party of a single generation.