The Parti Québécois began picking up the pieces from Monday's devastating election defeat, choosing Stéphane Bédard as interim leader to replace Pauline Marois.
Ms. Marois, humiliated by the lowest level of popular support in more than 40 years and the loss of her own seat, met for the last time with her team of elected and defeated candidates before slipping out without taking questions from the media.
Mr. Bédard said his task will be to unite a strong opposition and breathe new life into the deeply wounded party.
"I will ensure a transition and make sure that it takes place harmoniously," Mr. Bédard said, adding that the party will take its time in deciding when to hold a leadership vote to elect a permanent replacement.
Many candidates blamed the media for the defeat, saying their message was deliberately skewed to the Liberals' advantage.
"Every time we tried to discuss our policies and explain them to voters, the media repeatedly asked questions about the referendum and sidetracked our campaign," complained defeated PQ candidate Dominique Payette, the former journalist and daughter of past PQ minister Lise Payette.
Some argued that the election result, which gave the PQ 25 per cent of the popular vote and just 30 elected members, was an indication that the party had lost its ability to attract young voters.
"When a party fails to attract young people and intellectuals, it is condemned to disappear. We have a huge task ahead of us in getting back the young generation to believe in our project," said outgoing Justice Minister Bertand St-Arnaud.
Pierre Duchesne, the PQ Minister for Superior Education, agreed that the party's future lies with Quebec's youth, which has turned its back on the party.
"We have to build bridges with the younger generation. We have a lot of work to do," he said. "We need to fight cynicism towards the political class. We are partly responsible for this cynicism."
Elected and defeated candidates met Thursday afternoon to discuss the disastrous election strategy that resulted with the PQ being thrown out of office after only 18 months in power. Some PQ ministers placed part of the blame on the secular charter proposal, which divided Quebeckers and failed to rally the sovereignty movement as well.
After staunchly defending the secular charter bill, Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the controversial legislation, now says he would have made the necessary compromises with the Coalition Avenir Quebec had outgoing premier Pauline Marois waited before calling an election.
"I am confident we could have found a compromise with the CAQ to get the charter adopted," Mr. Drainville said before attending the cabinet meeting. His bill included the prohibition on the wearing of certain religious symbols, such as the hijab or kippa, by public servants, a position viewed by many as intolerant and discriminatory. The CAQ had proposed to limit the ban exclusively to those in position of authority, such as judges and police.
"We need to develop a more consensual project, one that will be more inclusive and add people to our party rather exclude them," said outgoing Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, who was critical of the secular charter and the divisions it created in the sovereignty movement.
Other ministers argued that the soul-searching within the party must go much deeper to examine the sovereignty option itself and how it was handled under Ms. Marois' leadership. For years the PQ has refused to define a clear strategy on how to achieve sovereignty, which many contend has created ambiguity and confusion among voters.