For the first time in nearly a decade, the Canadian province of Quebec will be ruled by the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ).
Like the Scottish Nationalist Party, the PQ is committed to a separate sovereign country that would secede from Canada. However, PQ leader Pauline Marois will find it difficult to move ahead on this ultimate goal because, as opposed to the previous occasions in which the party took power, this time it will be able to form only a minority government.
The outgoing Quebec Liberals finished with a surprisingly strong 31% to confound the pollsters, while a new party, the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec-Coalition for the Future of Quebec) finished 3rd and together with the Liberals can bring down the PQ government any time so wishes.
In terms of percentage of the vote, the PQ got 32%, the Liberals were a percentage point behind, while the CAQ got 27% - in its first election. Since Canada has single member districts, the tally in seats was 55-49-20, shortchanging the CAQ. Still, this is hardly the stuff of a popular mandate
The CAQ is made up of both separatists and Federalists, but the party believes that the entire idea of a separate Quebec has to be put on hold and the more pressing issues are economic and social ones. The party's leader, Francois Legault says “We need a change in Quebec and we have to stop being divided around the referendum (question).”
Another problem confronting the PQ is that according to recent polls, only 28% of the province's population are currently in favor of going it alone. In the 1990s that figure was nearly double. In the 1990s, Canada was going through a difficult economic time, but now it appears to be a pillar of economic stability compared to the European Union and the United States, the major trading partners of an independent Quebec.
The PQ paid the price for emphasizing sovereignty in the election campaign before ultimately switching gears to an it's-time-for-a-change approach. This created confusion and worked against the PQ, but helped the CAQ, that promised change rather than sovereignty.
What doomed the Liberals was the shadow of corruption charges tying party politicians in the province and the construction industry to organized crime. A commission is investigating the issue and Liberal party premier, Jean Charest, wanted a vote before the commission could do further damage. Charest, who moved on over to Quebec politics from national politics and is a staunch federalist, not only lost power but also his seat in the Quebec National Assembly..