MONTREAL — A celebration of the Parti Quebecois' return to power was shattered Tuesday — first by a political disappointment, then by a stunning tragedy.
The party won a minority government with a weaker-than-desired result, of 54 seats won out of 125, that could severely limit its ability to pursue its independence agenda.
A victory speech by premier-in-waiting Pauline Marois was then marred by an exceptionally ugly scene: she was whisked off the stage by guards during an attack in which two people were shot, one was killed, and a fire was set behind the hall where she spoke.
Police tackled a masked, housecoat-wearing suspect to the ground and took him away in a patrol car. The two people shot were originally listed in critical condition, and one was later pronounced dead. Televised images showed a long gun being confiscated.
The middle-aged suspect, while being dragged toward the police cruiser, shouted in French, "The English are waking up!''
Police told reporters early Wednesday the suspect is 62 but did not reveal his name. Police also said the second shooting victim, who was taken to hospital in critical condition, was no longer in danger.
Police said two weapons had been seized at the scene and because an incendiary device was used, four or five families in the immediate area had been evacuated as police searched for any other possible devices.
It was certainly the most tragic, and least jubilant, election win in the PQ's long history.
Even before the attack there was some frustration at the Metropolis club, where the partisan PQ crowd had assembled. The party has never governed with a minority in its history and, therefore, has never needed to seek the support of other parties to table a referendum question, an inaugural speech, or any other confidence measure.
The PQ's score in the popular vote was lower than any time it has ever governed, with just 32 per cent. That was just one percentage point more than the governing Liberals, who staved off the electoral annihilation many had predicted. The new Coalition party had 27 per cent.
The attack then took place, ironically, just after Marois delivered a conciliatory message in English — a rare occurrence at a partisan PQ event.
After an emotionally charged campaign that saw her party focus on language-and-identity issues, Marois promised English-speaking Quebecers that their rights would be protected. She also spoke of co-operation in the legislature with her opponents.
"Quebecers made their choice,'' Marois said, in a reference to the limits of governing with a minority. "We will respect their choice by governing with all those elected.''
She did promise to continue working for independence and her party faithful chanted nationalist slogans.
But the limitations of the victory were underscored in the bitter boos from the crowd that greeted each reference to opposing politicians. Earlier in the evening, people in the crowd also booed as they watched outgoing premier Jean Charest speak English in his concession speech.
How narrow was this victory?
Even after having been in power for nine years and serving three terms, sustaining numerous scandals, and having lost his own seat Tuesday, it was still unclear whether Charest would actually need to resign as Liberal leader.
In a fiery speech, Charest paid tribute to his Liberal party's core values, such as belonging to Canada, and he predicted it would continue to thrive.
The suddenly seatless political veteran gave no inkling of his future plans and repeatedly referred to "us'' and "we'' Liberals keeping the minority government in check. A close ally told The Canadian Press that she expects him to consult his caucus on future plans.
Tuesday's election result was greeted with perhaps the greatest sigh of relief, ever, to follow any of the five elections the PQ has won in its history. In an early reaction from federal politicians, Liberal Leader Bob Rae bluntly described the result on Twitter as: "Quebec voters reject separatist project.''
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was more conciliatory but the message was similar. In a statement he congratulated the PQ's Pauline Marois on her election win — then delivered a pointed barb aimed at the independence project.
"We don't believe Quebecers want to reopen the old constitutional quarrels of the past,'' Harper said in his first public comments after five weeks of silence on the Quebec election.
"Our government will remain focused on jobs, economic growth and good economic management. We believe economic issues and jobs are also the priority of Quebecers. In that sense, we will continue working with the Government of Quebec on those common objectives.''
Harper also thanked Charest for his "leadership and devotion to Quebecers.''
The PQ's 54 seats,fell nine short of the 63 needed for a majority in the 125-seat legislature. Quebec solidaire won two seats.
Charest's Liberals had a far better-than-expected result and won 50 ridings, holding onto official Opposition status. The newly formed Coalition party had a disappointing night, winning in 19 ridings.
Among party leaders, Marois was easily elected in her riding and was set to become the fifth female provincial or territorial premier. The Coalition's Francois Legault also won, and Quebec solidaire's two co-leaders, Amir Khadir and Francoise David, were elected.
While predictions of the Liberals' electoral wipeout did not come true, the party is not out of the woods yet: in addition to being potentially leaderless, the inner workings of its fundraising will be exposed to public scrutiny in an ongoing public inquiry.
Several factors could also resurrect the independence program.
It appeared unlikely, although not impossible, that the final seat numbers would ultimately leave another pro-independence party, the smaller and more left-wing Quebec solidaire, with the balance of power. It was also unclear whether the PQ might try to poach a few floor-crossers to get a majority.
There was a surge in voter turnout from 2008 levels.
A PQ win in the seat count terminates the reign of Charest, the resolutely pro-Canada premier who made the transition from national politics in 1998 when the federalist forces in the province were leaderless and fearful of another sovereignty referendum.
Charest's Liberals had won the popular vote in every provincial campaign he led and, since 2003, had held power with three straight election victories. They came close to winning the popular vote again, bolstered by their strength in anglophone areas.
The Charest years saw his government occasionally clash with Ottawa over policies related to criminal justice, the environment and health transfers but those skirmishes had generally been brief and sporadic.
The party that won the most seats Tuesday was the one that was consistently pushed him to take a harder line against Ottawa, and that frequently accused him of sacrificing Quebec's interests for fear of creating a schism with Canada.
The PQ would have no such qualms about schisms. The idea of confrontation with Ottawa is a central theme built into its platform.
The party plans to either demand or create new provincial powers, including a "Quebec citizenship.'' To get that document, future immigrants would have to prove they speak French, and the document would be a requirement to run for public office.
The party would also demand a transfer of powers from Ottawa that touch on domestic and international affairs. Targets include employment insurance, copyright policy and foreign-assistance funding.
Throughout the campaign the PQ warned that should the Supreme Court get in the way of any new language laws, or should Ottawa say no to any request, it has a backup plan: using each defeat as kindling to stoke the embers of the independence movement.
But it may ultimately be the national assembly of Quebec that thwarts many of its plans, given the vote results.
In any case, support for independence hasn't traditionally reached its highest peaks because of actions by a PQ government — but because of outside events.
Two examples are the early 1990s, when an attempt to get Quebec constitutionally recognized as a "distinct society'' failed, and in 2004 at the height of the sponsorship scandal.
A recent survey suggested the PQ had its work cut out for it with respect to its raison d'etre. The CROP survey pegged support for sovereignty at an especially dismal 28 per cent, or roughly half the historic levels recorded in the early '90s.
Charest was an underdog when he called the election but he entered into it at a moment many considered the most hospitable timing for his party.
The province's corruption inquiry is off during its summer holiday — and the return to school is on.
That timing might have helped push to the background ethics scandals that dogged his government such as the minister, Tony Tomassi, who quit politics and is set to appear in court on fraud charges.
Charest wanted to talk about law and order of another kind — in other words, not yielding to student protesters.
Just over a month ago, Charest kicked off the election campaign with an appeal to what he called "the silent majority,'' meaning those voters who opposed last spring's protests and who might be eager to punish the PQ for supporting them.
But the protests died down during the campaign. Most students have gone back to class, and only a few holdout university faculties and the most ardent protesters have kept up the fight.
So the battle over tuition never wound up taking centre stage. Charest was dogged by protests, however, during the campaign and was followed again by a jeering crowd when he cast his ballot Tuesday.
The student protesters rubbed a bit of salt in the wound late Tuesday, with one of their former leaders, Leo Bureau-Blouin, becoming the youngest-ever member of the legislature when he won a Montreal-area seat for the PQ.
Bureau-Blouin turns 21 in December.
-With file from Andy Blatchford
Related on HuffPost:
Users on Twitter are speculating that the gun used in the attack may have been a CZ 858, a semi-automatic weapon modeled after the AK-47 and legal in Canada.
"Never, never will I accept that Quebec is associated with violence," Marois told a news conference Wednesday.
"It is an isolated event and it does not represent who we are... Quebec is not a violent society. One act of folly cannot change this." (CP)
Premier-elect Marois says she will cancel the proposed tuition hikes which helped spark weeks of student protests earlier this year in Quebec. She will also cancel Bill 78, the much-maligned bill that gave police greater powers during the student unrest.
Marois also says she will form her cabinet within the next two weeks.
Other priorities for her new PQ government include expanding/strengthening Bill 101 language laws and working with Ottawa on the gun registry and looking at an increase on resource royalties.
Marois insisted that she return to the stage after being escorted off by her bodyguards. "There were at least 2,000 people there. What if those people panicked," she said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. She urged the crowd to exit the building calmly and slowly.
"I didn't know at that moment, outside, that there was a man who had been killed," she told the press conference.
She added that she never felt unsafe during the shooting but did not know that the man had been killed until after she left the building.
The victim in last night's deadly shooting has been ID'd as Denis Blanchette, a 48-year-old freelance technician who worked at the venue.
Richard Henry Bain, the suspect in last night's shooting runs a fishing and outdoors business near Mont Tremblant.
Police say they seized an AK-47 and a handgun last night.
Various media outlets have identified the suspect in last night's shooting at the PQ victory party in Montreal as Richard Bain.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has released a statement on last night's events:
“I was angered and saddened to hear of last night’s horrific shooting at the Parti Quebecois event at Metropolis.
“It is a tragic day where an exercise of democracy is met with an act of violence.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victim and wish the person injured a swift and complete recovery.
“This atrocious act will not be tolerated and such violence has no place in Canada. Canadians can rest assured that the perpetrator of last night’s events will face the full force of the law.”
|@ PMO_MacDougall : We are deeply concerned with the violence that occurred and our thoughts are with the victims and their families. #Qc2012|
The federal Liberals held a moment of silence before kicking off the second day of their caucus retreat. (Althia Raj)
The Liberals also released a statement that addressed last night's events:
“I was deeply shocked and disturbed to learn about the shootings that took place during Quebec Premier-elect Pauline Marois’ victory speech. We are extremely saddened by these senseless acts of violence, and congratulate the police and security forces for doing their work in the most difficult of circumstances. There is never an excuse or justification for acts of violence in Canadian society.
On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our Parliamentary caucus, I extend my thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.”
"This is the moment where one needs to pause, not the moment to start pointing fingers at whomever or whatever. It is the moment where we must stop, take a step back from the electoral fervor, forget our political and historic baggage to mourn the death of an innocent man who was only doing his job, who wasn't even there for a political rally, but simply to earn a living.
I am not writing this to explain the unexplainable, I am writing this to ask for the people of Quebec's discernment and especially it's compassion. We cannot let this event divide us, we cannot let this man be right. Let us do the opposite, I beg you."
"This morning I had the tough task of waking up my wife to tell her what had happened last night because she went to sleep before the speeches started. Every politician in this country is now thinking about security in a way that we haven't before. But I think that it is important for us all to remember that we cannot be hijacked in our desire to serve by someone with a gun."
Deepest condolences to the victims of the shooting last night in Montreal.— Bob Rae (@bobraeMP) September 5, 2012
He later added this statement:
"We have long been a peacable kingdom for the most part. We’ve had very few acts of political violence. We are not a society where these things are ever celebrated or condone and they should never be. I do think that it is important for Canadians to continue to work hard on the reasons why we are together as a country, we are together as a family. And no political agenda, whether it is identity, or whether it is about economic concerns or social concerns of any kind, can never be a justification for extremism or a justification for violence. And I think it is very very important for all of us to remember that. And I think certainly, all of us in public life have an obligation to remember it, it terms of the language that we use, in terms of the demands that we make, in terms of our understanding in terms of what we owe each other, we owe each other respect. We owe each other respect. And that applies to the federation, that applies to each one of us as individuals, and there can never be an excuse or justification for violence."
Shocked & thinking of the victims & their families today. PQ Montreal victory rally shooting leaves man dead, 1 injured soc.li/ixw60LC— Nathan Cullen (@nathancullen) September 5, 2012
Police spokesmen on CBC News this morning said that they will be monitoring comments on social media, referencing even "jokes" that appear on sites like Twitter.
Premier Jean Charest, who lost the election to the PQ, is expected to address his cabinet then reporters later today. He will be meeting with his caucus some time this week
When she assumes power, Pauline Marois brings to 5 the number of women leading Canadian provinces and territories. It's a historical precedent, though likely overshadowed by the night's tragic events.
According to our Quebec election riding tracker, the PQ won 54 seats, the Liberals 50, the CAQ 19 and Quebec Solidair 2
According to the Montreal Gazette, footage showed a high-powered rifle, which Twitter users identified as an AK-47 or Valmont Hunter weapon. Police did not confirm this.
CBC reports that the victim, who pronounced dead at the scene, was a man in his 40s and that a second man was critically injured in the attack.
A security perimeter has been established around a vehicle that may contains guns or explosives, according to La Presse.
|@ SPVM : Important - Event at Metropolis: a person is deceased. More informations will follow shortly. #Qc2012|
2 injured critically.. 1 arrest.. Shot fired behind the convention centre where Marois was giving her victory speech. A man about 50-years fired on people inside the Metropolis. Then the suspect set fired to the back of the Metropolis.
|@ SPVM : Regarding the event that just happened at Metropolis : 2 people injured and 1 person arrested. More info will follow shortly. #Qc2012|
Regarding the event that just happened at Metropolis : 2 people injured and 1 person arrested. More info will follow shortly.
Marois was rushed off stage by her officer detail during her speech. A PQ official said the move was triggered by the firing of a starter pistol or blank. Marois returned to stage to tell the crowd to file out slowly and carefully.
Listen to me carefully. As a nation, we want to make the decisions about the things that are important to us. We want a country. And we will have it. So yes, we will have relationships and we will do this in respect of the other.. I say to our neighbours in Canada: be open about this.... Quebec needs to become a sovereign country
Beyond the overall result -- and the tally of seats in the national assembly that had been led by the Liberals -- there are several issues to watch in tonight's result. <em>With files from CBC</em>
Strength Of PQ Vote
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/04/quebec-election-polls-2012_n_1854069.html" target="_hplink">The polls have been favouring Marois's aspiring Parti Québécois</a>, suggesting the sovereigntist party is on track to form a minority government. There's an outside chance it could be a majority, something Martin says would give the party "a great deal more stability and credibility in its actions in government." But that hardly means there will be instant referendum on Quebec sovereignty. "Then the question will turn to whether [the Parti Québécois] is in a good position to build up support for sovereignty from this very, one might say tenuous, base," Martin said. And, Martin suggests, that won't be easy. "The majority of Quebecers have some sympathy for the notion," he said, "but for the moment it's only a minority that have the actual desire to go through the whole process of getting to sovereignty. You know the usual joke: everyone wants to go to paradise, nobody wants to die." Getting to sovereignty would involve a referendum campaign, something that can be divisive and acrimonious. "It also forces people internally to make choices that they're not necessarily comfortable with," Martin said.
Fate Of The Liberal Party
If support for Charest's beleaguered Liberals crumbles, as some polls have suggested is likely, it will be a stunning -- and historic -- demise for the party. "It's been the party in the centre of power in Quebec for the last century, and it was the one stable party and other parties sort of gravitated around it," Martin said. "At this point it looks possible for the party to actually fall apart and that's something that is of great consequence for the future of Quebec politics." While electoral defeat in itself is hardly insurmountable, the Liberals have a few other storm clouds looming, including the imminent resumption of a provincial inquiry probing allegations of corruption in the construction industry. Revelations trickling in from the Charbonneau commission might implicate party members and turn out to be even more damaging to the party's future, Martin says. Add the potential for a leadership crisis that could follow if Charest loses his Sherbrooke seat, and Martin sees a difficult time ahead for the party. "The Liberals will be more or less forced to support the Parti Québécois because they can't afford to get into an election in the short run," he said. "They will be very weak. They will be in the situation in which if they force an election, they might actually disappear."
Strength Of CAQ Vote
Legault, a former Parti Québecois cabinet minister who has walked a very fine line on the sovereignty issue since the election was called, spent the final days of the campaign suggesting that the election had evolved into a two-way race between his upstart CAQ and the Parti Québecois. Martin says the party has a "fairly good chance" of becoming the Official Opposition, something that "changes the dynamic," and reduces the Liberal role. Martin sees the CAQ in a different light than the Action democratique du Quebec, which in 2007 found itself as the Official Opposition, but was later routed by voters and has since seen its remnants absorbed into the CAQ. The CAQ is "essentially the same type of party but they do have a team that is in my view more prepared for at least for the role of official opposition than were the ADQ," says Martin. "The ADQ was somehow caught by surprise and they had a fairly weak delegation at the national assembly whereas the CAQ in my view is better staffed."
Where The Francophone Vote Goes
Much is made of the francophone vote in Quebec politics, and no wonder -- it represents 82 per cent of the population. And this time round, there's been an obvious trend. "For francophone voters, this election has clearly become a fight between Pauline Marois and François Legault," CBC's Bernard St-Laurent said. By the fourth week of the campaign, a CROP poll was showing that francophone support for the Coalition Avenir Québec had grown at 30 per cent, compared with 36 per cent for the PQ. "This means in the second half of the campaign, the CAQ has gained four points among francophone voters and the PQ has lost three," St-Laurent said. "CROP pollster Youri Rivest says CAQ support has now reached the zone where it can win a substantial number of ridings," St-Laurent noted. Martin cautions against looking at the francophone vote as a homogeneous block. "You've got at least six or seven regions that show different electoral dynamics all at once, and that includes a great deal of variety across regions," he said, adding what happens in the 450 region around Montreal will be of great importance. "That's where there's been the most demographic change," Martin said. "That region is actually where the competition between the Parti Québecois and the CAQ is the strongest and that's where we're likely to see, if there's a strong and uniform shift in that region, that will definitely be determinant for the winning party or the government, that's for sure."
Charest's Fate In His Riding
The polls haven't been favouring Charest at home in Sherbrooke. But the veteran Liberal leader has shown he can survive adversity. He and Elsie Wayne were the last federal Conservatives standing in 1993 when the party went down to its historic defeat. But tonight could be different. Martin, who grew up in Sherbrooke a couple of blocks from Charest, considers him an "extraordinarily gifted politician." "But he's never been wildly popular in Sherbrooke. It's always been a bit of a struggle for him to win by a convincing margin in his own riding, and if the party collapses at the provincial level, it's fairly likely it will also be difficult for him in Sherbrooke and probably facilitate the decision-making process on his part as to what to do in the future." Martin says Charest's campaign actions have shown he knows the struggle he faces in his own riding. "He has been quite aware of the situation because he spent almost twice as much time himself in Sherbrooke in this campaign than in any other campaign," Martin said. "I think he's well aware that he's got ... a steep hill to climb, but people in Sherbrooke are used to climbing steep hills, so you never know."
Here's a look at five ways the Quebec election should be of interest to the rest of Canada. <em>With files from CBC</em>
The Sovereignty Question
"Quebecers don't want a referendum on sovereignty," says CBC's Bernard St-Laurent. "That doesn't mean they would vote against secession. But they would rather not have to deal with the issue in the first place." Still, if the PQ gains power and the sovereignty queston gets pushed to the fore, there is the potential for that discussion to wake up the debate outside Quebec. Times have changed since Canadians outside the province packed buses bound for Montreal, determined to convince Quebecers to vote Non in the 1995 referendum. "There is little stomach anymore among the Canadian population outside this province to placate Quebec nationalists with further jurisdictional concessions and fiscal payoffs," the Montreal Gazette noted in an editorial on Aug. 27. That lack of stomach could bring a showdown on quicker than expected, and perhaps make it difficult on those who will want to play for time to let emotions cool and to keep the country together. The economy question
The Economy Question
Quebec's fiscal picture is pretty gloomy. It is weighed down by $184 billion in debt, crumbling infrastructure and little sense that the province's fiscal future will get much better soon. The Conference Board of Canada projects growth of just 1.4 per for 2012, "one of the weakest performances in the country and much weaker than Ontario's." The board says the Quebec economy is feeling the burden of weakening global economic growth and the heavier personal fiscal burden on Quebecers. Whoever ends up leading the province after Sept. 4 will have to make some hard decisions. All the parties propose a balanced budget by 2013-14 but they also have their individual billion-dollar funds for everything from natural resources to finding ways to avert foreign takeovers. How this would all work isn't entirely clear. But a minority government or a radical change in direction could end up affecting the national economy. And some of the protectionist and anti-takeover plans being proposed could also jeopardize the Harper government's free-trade plans with Europe and the Pacific Rim.
The Tuition Question
For months this spring, Quebec students flooded the streets, banged pots and pans and found support from labour unions in their fight against the tuition hikes proposed by Charest's government. They were the reason, Charest said, that he called the election when he did, ostensibly before classes were set to resume. "In the last few months we've heard a lot from a number of student leaders. We've heard from people in the street. We've heard from those who have been hitting away at pots and pans. Now is the time for the silent majority." Outside Quebec, the root cause of the protest may ring a little hollow -- after all, even if the Liberals' proposed increases came to pass, students would still be paying far less than the national average for post-secondary tuition. The Liberals are looking for an 80 per cent increase, which would come in increments of $254 a year for seven years. The CAQ is proposing an increase of $200 per year over five years. The PQ platform proposes eliminating the Liberal increase, but Marois has since said modest fee increases would be indexed to the cost of living. The question remains, however: just who is going to resolve the tuition crisis, and how? If Quebec students ultimately get even some of what they want, to what extent would the result embolden students elsewhere in Canada, many of whom are reported to be drowning in student debt?
The Identity Question
The PQ platform includes plans for a formalized Quebec citizenship, which might bring it into conflict with Canadian citizenship, as well as a secular charter that would ban civil servants from wearing "overt" religious symbols such as the hijab or a yarmulke. (A crucifix would be fine provided it's not too showy as it is considered part of Quebec's cultural heritage.) "Add those commitments to the promise to prevent francophones and allophones from attending English CEGEPS, and [the PQ's] proposal to force businesses with more than 11 employees to function in French, and no one will doubt who the PQ is courting," says the CBC's St-Laurent. But apart from the legalistic and Charter of Rights challenges that some of these proposals would unleash, they could also set a national precedent and spark a debate over multiculturalism and minority accommodation across the country that few want.
The Language Question
The PQ's proposed new and more restrictive Charter of the French Language could be a risky move, suggests St-Laurent. But it is not the only party that has plunged into the murky language waters. Charest has said he wants the French-language rules in Bill 101 to apply to federal institutions to help "promote and protect the French language and culture." But, he hastened to add, he wouldn't actually amend the law. The CAQ's Legault has said he wouldn't strengthen Bill 101 but because of how much English is spoken in business in Montreal, he would ensure it's fully enforced. The focus on language inevitably raises the question of just how comfortable those whose first language is not French would continue to feel in a province where its protection grows. Would there be another Anglo or allophone exodus, as there was in the 1970s when the PQ first came to power? It seems unlikely but media reports in Montreal suggest the real estate market may be feeling the effects of election apprehension, with people in English-speaking areas holding off on offers for a new house until after Sept. 4. Minority language rights have always been a delicate balancing act at government, business and school board levels right across the country. If Quebec does move to strengthen its language laws, that would almost certainly have a ripple effect elsewhere.