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The Globe and Mail

Did Quebec vote for stability, or change?

The Debate

A disaster for the PQ. A cruel personal defeat for Pauline Marois. A triumph for Philippe Couillard, though perhaps an ambiguous victory given that voters rejected the PQ more than they chose the Liberals. François Legault can hold his head high. Québec Solidaire continues to eat into PQ support on the left.

The Debaters

Debate contributor
Konrad Yakabuski Public policy columnist for The Globe and Mail
Moderating: Has covered Quebec business, politics and culture for more than two decades
Debate contributor
André Pratte Federalist and chief editorialist for Quebec newsaper La Presse
Argues that Quebeckers rejected the Parti Québécois tactic of blaming Ottawa but that federal-provincial relations will continue to challenge the new Liberal government.
Debate contributor
Antonia Maioni Professor of political science at McGill University
Argues that despite the Liberals’ resounding victory, the new government will be tested by upcoming challenges on health care and education.
Debate contributor
Daniel Turp Sovereigntist and law professor at Université de Montréal
Argues that the PQ’s defeat parallels the Bloc Québécois meltdown in 2011 and gives the Liberals four years to prove that the change was worthwhile.

The Discussion

Debate contributor

Konrad Yakabuski: How does each of you interpret this result and what it says about Quebeckers’ state of mind?

Debate contributor

André Pratte: It is much too early to say what the longer term significance of this election will be. One thing is certain: support for the Parti Québécois has not been lower since the party's first election, in 1970. At that time, René Lévesque and his troops received 23 per cent of the vote. Yesterday, the PQ's share was barely above that (25 per cent). Two-thirds of Quebeckers voted for the Liberal Party of Québec and the Coalition Avenir Québec, parties that want to work on Quebec’s real priorities instead of blaming Canada for our difficulties and weaknesses. Philippe Couillard will be the province's next premier. The Liberals had been in opposition for less than two years. They will need to convince Quebeckers that they have learned from their mistakes. The Parti Québécois will have not only have to choose a new leader, but also reflect on the strategy that was soundly rejected last night. Voters did not appreciate the uncompromising attitude the government took on the Charter of Values. They resented how the PQ tried to hide its intentions regarding separation. The CAQ's future is bright. If François Legault plays his cards right, he might soon be seen as THE alternative to the Liberals. If that happens, Quebeckers will finally be freed from the federalist/separatist – Liberal/PQ – polarization. Is this the end of the separatist movement? Certainly not. It is now much weakened. But it has been in this position before, only to resurrect. The relationship between Quebec and the country's other regions will continue to challenge us. It is not a bad thing. For that challenge is a big part of what Canada is.

Debate contributor

Antonia Maioni: It was a night to remember in more ways than one: The defeat of Quebec's first female premier, Pauline Marois; the PQ reduced to a die-hard rump of sovereigntist supporters, its lowest vote share since 1970; a Liberal party re-energized across Quebec; and the third party CAQ in its best showing seat-wise, attracting francophone nationalists to its fold. The results show, unambiguously, that Quebeckers want referendum talk off the table for now, and that they are attuned to economic messages and the pocketbook issues that resonate everywhere. But the rest is uncertain. The comfortable majority voters gave to the Liberal party may reflect the yearning for stability, but among francophone voters it also showed a continuing wariness toward both of the major parties. The PQ will now have to rebuild itself with a new leader that will have to reconcile the party’s internal divisions while reconciling itself with francophone voters. The CAQ will have to decide whether it remains the third party or expands its message to include either sovereigntist voters or federalist ones. And the Liberals will be tested by how it handles not only economic challenges (including the sensibilities of health care reform and a renewed debate over university funding) but also language policy and yes, even a new charter of values. As a candidate, Philippe Couillard was able to deflect criticism about the Liberal Party’s past and his own integrity; as premier he may face more forceful questions and be held to an even higher standard of judgment.

Debate contributor

Daniel Turp: The result is a clear setback for the Parti Québécois. It lost power, 24 seats in the National Assembly and its leader Pauline Marois, who was defeated in her own constituency. There will be a lot of soul-searching in the next weeks and months to understand the reasons why Quebeckers decided to dismiss the Parti Québécois in such a way. The only consolation for the PQ is that it will be the Official Opposition and will have ways and means to rebuild the party. And a great deal of attention will be given to the leadership race, which will be forthcoming. The Liberal Party and premier-designate Philippe Couillard made significant gains in all parts of Quebec and will govern with a confortable majority in the next four years. François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec gained three seats (from 19 to 22) in the National Assembly, but its popular support decreased by almost 4 per cent. With a third member in the National Assembly and a small increase in popular support, Québec Solidaire made some progress as well. Quebeckers are collectively a tough act to follow. Their mood was for change very similar to the mood they expressed when they replaced the Bloc Québécois with the New Democratic Party in Ottawa. The mood might change quickly again, but the Liberals have four years to prove that the change was worthwhile.

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