Pauline Marois resigns, Liberals win crushing majority over separatists
MONTREAL - Quebec Liberals decisively crushed the Parti Quebecois in Monday's election, vaulting rookie leader Philippe Couillard to the premier's job and dealing yet another bitter blow to the separatist cause.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois quit during her concession speech after she lost her Quebec City riding.
"You will understand that under the circumstances I have to leave my post," Marois told supporters in Montreal, to a chorus of groans.
Quebec's first female premier was in power for just 18 months and that ended with her party's worst election-night showing, in terms of seats, in 25 years.
Liberals were elected in 70 ridings, a 21-seat improvement over the last election.
The PQ was at 30 seats, down 24 from the last election in September 2012.
Marois ended her speech with an appeal to the old-stock French Quebecers, many of whom rejected her pledge to toughen language laws, make Quebec even more secular and hold consultations on separation from Canada.
"We cannot forget where we come from or who we are," she said. "We come from a courageous people. We have to continue perpetuate the will of all of those generations who fought so that we could exist. Not (just) survive, not bend, to exist fully."
Couillard struck a different tone during his victory speech, speaking English as well as French and telling immigrants and aboriginals that he's "the premier of all Quebecers."
"The time of wounds is behind us," said Couillard, who has accused the PQ of dividing Quebecers with its secularism charter. "Welcome. You are at home here," he added. The 33-day campaign saw the separatist lead vanish in the polls as Couillard, 56, overcame a string of scandals that allowed the PQ to end nine years of Liberal rule with a minority government in 2012.
Marois, a 65-year-old PQ lifer, began her campaign by plugging her proposal to bar all civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Marois' secularism charter was popular among French Quebecers but English communities, ethnic Quebecers and even former separatist premiers Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau panned the idea.
Marois also touched briefly on separation from Canada during the campaign before shelving the independence message as her party continued to plunge in the polls.
Marois finished by repeatedly attacking Couillard over scandals under predecessor Jean Charest that involved corruption and collusion in construction and party financing.
Couillard, meanwhile, focused on health care and the economy, promising to create 250,000 jobs in the next five years.
About the only good news for the PQ on Monday was a victory by their superstar candidate, media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau, who is now a front-runner to replace Marois.
"The result across Quebec is not what we would have hoped for," Peladeau told supporters.
"We have to welcome Quebecers' choice with humility. (We'll) let the dust settle and take the next few days to analyze tonight's vote very carefully."
What others are saying about Liberal landslide in Quebec:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
"On behalf of our Government, I would like to convey my sincerest congratulations to Philippe Couillard on his election victory.
"The results clearly demonstrate that Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation.
"We look forward to working with the new Government of Quebec on those priorities.
"I would also like to thank the outgoing Premier, Pauline Marois, for her public service."
B.C. Premier Kristy Clark
"Like most Canadians, I have been paying close attention to the provincial election in Quebec.
"The Canada I have lived and worked in, the country that I am humbled to represent around the world, includes Quebec.
"I look forward to working with Premier-elect Couillard at the Premiers' table on our shared goals: building a proud, prosperous and inclusive Canada."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
"I want to congratulate Premier-designate Philippe Couillard on tonight's Quebec election results.
"I believe we can achieve so much when provinces and territories work together.
"Ontario and Quebec have a long history of collaboration and productive relations, and we look forward to continuing our fruitful partnership by focusing on the things that matter most to people: good schools, reliable healthcare, a safe and clean environment and a strong economy."