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CAQ Leader François Legault elected in l'Assomption

09/04/2012 10:17 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault has been declared elected in his own riding of l'Assomption.

But he didn't wait for that late call in what turned out to be a tight contest against the Parti Québécois's Lizabel Nitoi before taking to the stage to congratulate the 18 candidates who will be heading to the national assembly alongside him.

"What an incredible adventure!" Legault said, beaming. "In just nine months, we have succeeded in founding a new political party and leading a ferocious electoral fight."

"The challenge was enormous," he added. "From this moment on, the political landscape of Quebec will never be the same. You are witnessing today the arrival of a new political force in Quebec."

Generous in his praise for opponents

Legault congratulated his political adversaries, thanking defeated Liberal Leader and outgoing Premier Jean Charest for all his work in advancing Quebec's interests.

He said Pauline Marois's election is historic and a strong symbol for Quebec women.

"Before the inevitable fights we'll have at the national assembly, I still want to pay her all my respect," Legault said.

Duchesneau wins, Barrette loses

Jacques Duchesneau, the former Montreal police chief and Quebec's most prominent anti-corruption whistleblower, has won his seat in the new riding of Saint-Jérôme, north of Montreal.

But other high-profile candidates were not so fortunate.

Gaétan Barrette, the former head of Quebec's federation of medical specialists, lost to the Parti Québécois's Mathieu Traversy in Terrebonne.

François Rebello, who left the PQ last year to join Legault's fledgling coalition, lost his riding of Sanguinet to Alain Therrien.

Legault promised radical change

Legault campaigned to cut thousands of public sector jobs, eliminate school boards and find every Quebecer a family doctor within a year.

The former PQ cabinet minister and sovereigntist hardliner promised to avoid another referendum on sovereignty, arguing that Quebecers do not want one

The self-made millionaire generated months of media buzz when he launched CAQ in 2011 and merged with the now defunct Action démocratique du Québec.

Centre-right and moderately nationalist, CAQ was hoping to sway federalist and sovereigntist voters disillusioned with the governing Liberals and opposition Parti Québécois.

Articulate, bilingual and affable, Legault, 55, has proven to be a popular leader in the polls and is frequently sought out as an economic critic in the public sphere.

From businessman to national assembly

Legault says as a child growing up in a modest home in Montreal's Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, he had a dream of becoming a millionaire by age 40.

A former accountant and auditor, Legault founded Air Transat in 1986 with two partners. He achieved his childhood goal by selling his shares of the billion-dollar company in 1997.

He entered politics unelected in 1998 when former PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard offered him a plum cabinet post as industry minister.

Legault won his first election later that year in Rousseau and was re-elected three times.

He sat as a PQ MNA from 1998 to 2009 holding the health and education portfolios in successive governments. When the PQ was ousted from power in 2003, Legault served as finance critic for the party.

He resigned from politics in 2009 to lay the groundwork for the CAQ alongside businessman Charles Sirois.

Legault has led his nascent party since its official formation in November 2011 without a seat at the national assembly. His caucus of nine independent MNAs includes ex-ADQ and PQ members.

By merging with the ADQ, Legault’s CAQ has adopted some of the former party’s more controversial policies, including abolishing school boards and capping immigration.

Legault is married and has two children.

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