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Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault responds to questions at a news conference Wednesday, August 15, 2012 in Riviere-du-Loup, Que.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said he will keep a "tight check" on Pauline Marois's government, painting his disappointing third-place finish as a mandate to continue fighting the Parti Québécois' sovereigntist and left-wing agenda.

Mr. Legault said he is ready to work with the new PQ government to tighten rules against the corruption that has "poisoned" the province. However, Mr. Legault said his party will remain committed to fighting for profound changes to the province's politics.

"It's our duty to ensure that we keep a tight check on the government," Mr. Legault said in his speech to party supporters, surrounded by many candidates who failed to win in their ridings.

The CAQ is disappointed that its 27-per-cent share of the vote only produced 19 seats, or 15 per cent of the province's MNAs. Still, Mr. Legault said he is optimistic for the future as the current minority government can be expected to have a relatively short lifespan.

"Tonight, the population expressed a strong desire for change," he said. "Another democratic rendezvous awaits us. Victory awaits us."

The Coalition Avenir Québec's third-place finish in the election highlights the upstart party's failure to break through in the province's suburban ridings around Montreal.

The CAQ lived up to expectations in the greater Quebec City area, but could not win enough seats nearer to Montreal to challenge the province's traditional parties for first or second place.

Mr. Legault had said in the dying days of the campaign that the party's future hinged on winning seats in the suburban 450 area code around Montreal, but voters simply did not come through for the CAQ in most of the targeted ridings.

Former cop Jacques Duchesneau won his seat north of Montreal and promised that the CAQ's agenda for a smaller government and anti-corruption measures will have an impact at the National Assembly.

"People want us to clean up government, and a smaller bureaucracy," said the party's star candidate. "The population has been heard."

Party supporters, however, were stunned the recent support in public-opinion polls did not translate into more seats. In addition, a number of star candidates, such as doctor Gaétan Barrette, were defeated.

"It's disappointing," said 28-year-old Caroline Desrosiers at the party's election-night headquarters.

Surrounded by dozens of ashen-faced supporters at a community centre in the CAQ Leader's riding, Ms. Desrosiers said she was convinced that the party could at least finish ahead of the Liberals with the promise to shake up the provincial government.

"It was possible. Maybe people weren't ready for such a substantial change," she said.

Mr. Legault has said that he would not form an alliance with the Parti Québécois or the Quebec Liberal Party in the event of a minority government, although he said he would collaborate with them to advance his priorities.

The CAQ's message is heavily geared toward the economy and redirecting government spending toward new priorities. The party wants to cut billions of dollars in provincial spending in school boards, regional health agencies and Hydro-Québec, and direct the savings into classrooms and health-care services.

Mr. Legault is an accountant and a former executive in the airline industry. A sovereigntist since his teenage years, he joined the Parti Québécois in 1998. However, he has drifted away from the party, convinced that Quebeckers want to focus on economic and social issues instead of constitutional debates.