Quebec voter turnout is up compared to the last provincial election, despite a few power outages and temporary closures at polling stations in Montreal.
The Quebec director-general of Elections said that as of 11:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, 8.68 per cent of Quebecers had voted, compared to 5.82 per cent in 2008.
With the advanced polling turnout, that means 25 per cent of Quebecers have already voted.
Voter turnout hit new lows the last time Quebecers went to the polls to elect a provincial government. According to the province's chief electoral officer, in 2008 only 57 per cent of people who could vote did.
More than 50 people were lined up outside a polling station in Montreal's Mercier riding Tuesday morning before its doors opened, many holding voter reminder cards.
With major polling firms reporting that about 10 per cent of voters remained undecided in the days leading up to the vote — and more than 20 per cent of decided voters were open to changing their minds at the ballot box — the outcome has become impossible to predict.
The election call came on Aug.1, in the midst of the province's annual construction holiday when a quarter of all Quebecers go on vacation.
But observers who suggested that a summer election campaign could have translated into lacklustre interest and a poor turnout at the ballot box may be proven wrong.
By the close of advance polling on Aug. 30, almost a million people — 16.6 per cent of all registered voters — turned up to cast their ballots.
Close to 5 million eligible to vote today
Polling stations throughout Quebec open at 9:30 a.m. ET and close at 8 p.m.
There are 19,680 polling stations in all, and every registered voter should have received a reminder card explaining where to vote.
Any voter unsure of what polling station to go to can visit the website of Quebec's chief electoral officer, monvote.qc.ca.
Student protests start, end campaign
Quebec's 40th general election comes on the heels of the province's raucous student crisis over tuition increases — an issue that gripped the province during the winter and into spring.
Liberal Leader Jean Charest launched his campaign on Aug. 1 — a date which marked the 100th straight night of protests —on a theme of stability, hoping that voters would reward him for standing up to striking students.
Student protests did occasionally, however, force Charest to cancel campaign events or change venues.
Indeed, on Monday evening — just 12 hours before the polls opened — pot-banging protesters surrounded the Quebec Liberal party's campaign bus in the Villeray district of Montreal, before moving on to join hundreds of others in a march down St-Denis Street.
But that outburst of the student protest movement remained largely peaceful, and the angry mob expected to dog the Liberal leader throughout the campaign rarely materialized.
Charest's focus: jobs and stability
During the campaign, Jean Charest tried to keep the focus on the economy and job creation, peddling his Plan Nord — a scheme to invest $80 billion in private and public energy and resource projects in northern Quebec over the next quarter century.
He argued that a Quebec run by the Parti Québécois or the fledgling Coalition Avenir Québéc would mean economic and constitutional uncertainty as well as clashes with Ottawa.
Legault's theme: cleaning house
CAQ Leader François Legault began his campaign with a plan to weed out corruption and collusion.
He ended it on the same note, in the riding of St-Jérôme north of Montreal where his star candidate, former Montreal police chief and anti-corruption investigator Jacques Duchesneau, is running in a hotly contested race.
"The motivation is really about my two children," Legault told supporters. "I think that right now I'm not proud of what we're leaving to them."
Legault has campaigned to cut thousands of public sector jobs, eliminate school boards and find every Quebecer a family doctor within a year.
Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and sovereigntist hardliner, promised to avoid another referendum on sovereignty, arguing that Quebecers do not want one.
Marois would work towards sovereignty
Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has said a PQ government would work toward sovereignty — taking back powers from Ottawa in areas such as immigration. She's made Quebec's linguistic and cultural identity a key issue in the campaign, to the delight of sovereigntist hardliners.
Pushing for sovereignty has been called a gamble by some, with some polls suggesting the majority of Quebecers have little desire to face another referendum.
But should the gamble pay off and voters respond to her appeal, the PQ leader could find herself Quebec's first woman premier — and a step closer to her goal of making Quebec an independent country.
Quebecers urged to 'follow their hearts'
Québec Solidaire ended its campaign with a prediction that it would see as many as five of its candidates win a seat in the national assembly, up from one in the last session, and a call to voters to "follow their hearts."
Party co-spokesperson Françoise David is hoping to win her seat in Montreal's Gouin riding, but she's up against a popular Parti Québécois incumbent.
David said some English-speaking citizens recently visited her at the campaign office.
"They told me, 'We are not sovereignists, but we love you. Because of your social program, we will vote for you,'" said David.
Québec Solidaire is a sovereignist party, but throughout the campaign, candidates have repeatedly emphasized that their vision of Quebec includes all kinds of people.
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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.
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