Voters in Quebec elect a federalist government

Montreal  – Voters in Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec elected a federalist provincial government Monday, handing the Liberal Party of Quebec a slim majority.

Premier Jean Charest's Liberals, who are not connected to the federal Liberal Party, won 66 seats in the 125-seat provincial legislature, with 42 per cent of the popular vote.

Charest, whose party held 48 of the 125 seats in Quebec's provincial parliament, called for early elections in the hope of securing a mandate at a time of economic crisis.

"In this period of economic uncertainty a lot of Quebecers recognized the need for stability and they reinforced our team by electing a majority government," Charest said.

"These elections were held in very peculiar conditions, we were facing an economic storm. Our priority is the economy."

Charest's return to a third consecutive term was welcome news for Canadian unity, as it means that Canada got a four-year reprieve from the ever-present danger of another poisonous national unity crisis, but this time amid an ever-deepening economic downturn.

However, the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), which seeks Quebec's independence from Canada, also made major gains, returning its status of official opposition with
51 seats and 35 per cent of the popular vote. Following its disastrous showing in the 2007 election, the PQ was reduced to only 36 seats.

"Tonight's results are probably surprising for many people," PQ leader Pauline Marois Marois told a crowd of jubilant supporters in Montreal. "Parti Quebecois is coming back from afar, and even if we didn't get tonight what we were hoping, our dream is still alive. We'll get there."

The right-wing Action Democratique du Quebec, which advocates Quebec's autonomy within Canada, was the biggest loser of the night. The ADQ was down from 41 seats to seven, not even enough to keep the official party status, which requires a party to hold 12 seats in the legislature. Shaken ADQ founder Mario Dumont resigned his position as party leader.

"I would have liked to receive a better result. I assume full responsibility for that. And I will not be at the head of my party in the next general election," Dumont told his dumbfounded supporters in Riviere-du-Loup, in eastern Quebec.

The left-wing sovereignist party Quebec Solidaire managed to elect its first and only candidate.

Charest ran a solid campaign, emphasizing the need for a firm hand on the tiller in times of an economic uncertainty.

But in the last two weeks his campaign was hurt by a power struggle in the federal parliament as the left-wing opposition coalition with the separatist Bloc Quebecois, PQ's cousins on the federal level, tried to topple the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This unleashed a storm of indignation and Quebec-bashing, especially in western Canada.

Josee Legault, a prominent political analyst, told Canadian Broadcasting Corp that the anti-Quebec backlash in the rest of Canada may have driven some voters away from the Liberals.

PQ leader Marois, on the other hand, had to tread carefully not to alienate hardcore separatists, while trying to woo softer nationalists who were more concerned about the economy than sovereignty, Legault said.

Monday's vote registered the lowest voter turnout in over half a century, with only 56 per cent of voters showing up at the polls. (dpa)