Quebec voters oust separatist government, Liberals win

Early results show Philippe Couillard's Liberals in the lead with 44% of votes cast, followed by the separatist Parti Quebecois with 27%

MONTREAL, Canada – Canada’s Quebec province voted out a separatist government Monday, April 7, choosing a former neurosurgeon and his federalist Liberal party to lead a promised economic rally.

Television networks predicted a Liberal victory soon after the polls closed at 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Tuesday).

Early results showed Philippe Couillard’s Liberals in the lead with 44% of votes cast, followed by the separatist Parti Quebecois with 27%.

The conservative Coalition Avenir Quebec and the leftist Quebec Solidaire rounded up 17% and 5% percent support, respectively.

Quebec’s first female premier, Pauline Marois, had called the snap elections 18 months into her first mandate, hoping to gain seats to form a majority government.

The main opposition Liberals’ new leader was untested and its usual economic platform was in shambles.

But what at first looked like a sure win for Marois’s Party Quebecois (PQ) quickly turned round during one of the nastiest campaigns in Canadian history, with the Liberals jumping into the lead in the final stretch.

In order to form a majority government, a party needed to win at least 63 of the 125 seats in the Quebec legislature.

At 9:00 pm (0100 GMT), the Liberals had won or were leading in 74 electoral districts, up 25 seats from before the election, while the PQ was at 37.

Marois had kicked off the campaign pitching a secular values charter, which would ban public sector workers from wearing religious apparel, including headscarves, turbans and yarmulkes.

But the fight for the province’s 6 million voters suddenly turned to focus on whether a majority PQ government would hold a third referendum on Quebec independence in the next four years.

Quebecers rejected splitting from the rest of Canada in 1980 and 1995 referendums. And recent polling shows two out of three Quebecers do not want to reopen the thorny debate.

During the campaign, Couillard, 56, warned of economic and social turmoil should a majority PQ government bent on Quebec independence win.

At the same time, he touted his party as best to spur a sluggish Quebec economy that has trailed other Canadian provinces in emerging from the Great Recession.

Analyst Sebastien Galy of the French bank Societe Generale noted that Quebec bonds rallied in advance of election day, as the PQ sagged in public opinion polls.

But Quebec bonds still trade at a discount versus its neighbor Ontario, he added.

Overall the Liberal win, Galy said, “will likely help give a positive impulse to Quebec’s economy after a mudslinging campaign the likes of which the deeply civil Quebec had not seen before.”

The Liberals under a former leader had ruled Quebec for 9 years before being ousted by the PQ in the midst of a student uprising in spring 2012 over a proposed tuition hike.

Couillard’s victory notably comes one day before hearings are scheduled to resume into Quebec government corruption allegations, which had tarnished the previous Liberal administration.

The loss for the PQ, meanwhile, marks its worst showing since its formation in 1970 in order to pursue Quebec independence.

It is also the first time in four decades that a Quebec government has failed to secure a second term in legislative elections. – Rappler.com

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