OTTAWA - Stephen Harper was never such a big fan of topsy-turvy minority governments — but one in Quebec City might suit him just fine.
The prime minister became well acquainted with the limitations and uncertainties of not winning an outright majority of seats over two consecutive elections. Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois now faces similar obstacles as she tries to push ahead with a separatist agenda while facing two other parties who want nothing to do with a referendum.
For Harper, it's the best of the worst-case scenarios.
In a written statement Tuesday night, Harper congratulated Marois on her election win — a less-than-convincing minority comprised of just 54 seats, nine short of being able to form a coveted majority government.
But in virtually the same breath, he made it clear the party's failure to capture a majority indicated a lack of support for the PQ's separatist subtext.
"We do not believe that Quebecers wish to revisit the old constitutional battles of the past. Our government will remain focused on jobs, economic growth and sound management of the economy," Harper said.
“We believe that economic issues and jobs are also the priorities of the people of Quebec. With this in mind, we will continue to work with the government of Quebec toward our common goals."
Federal ministers and parliamentary secretaries are scheduled to fan out across the country Wednesday to cheerfully announce funding related to youth employment and skills training — business as usual, in other words.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae declared on Twitter: "Quebec voters reject separatist project. This is the key point that must not be lost."
The Conservatives — and the NDP — have kept their powder bone dry during the provincial campaign and there's every sign they will continue to do so.
Graham Fox, president of the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy, says Quebec is more heterogeneous politically than many pundits give it credit for. Federal politicians likely recognize that they're dealing with a much more complex picture than the headline of a separatist win.
"If you go from region to region, you're actually looking at very different electoral contests and electoral battlegrounds," said Fox, a former chief of staff to Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark.
"I'm not sure how much we can expect Pauline Marois to speak for all of Quebec..."
But Marois is expected to try and make that "keep calm and carry on" approach difficult for federal leaders to maintain.
Marois had already signalled a series of demands she wants to make of Ottawa — from taking over responsibility for employment insurance to foreign development bucks. She has promised to take any fights with Ottawa up with the courts, painting any resistance as more evidence of the necessity for sovereignty.
"We won't be satisfied with just getting more powers. What we want is Quebec sovereignty," Marois recently told the Globe and Mail.
"And until we achieve it following a referendum, what we want is to get more power on what makes us different as people."
This won't be a foreign tactic to Harper, himself a wedge-politics maestro. For years, his Conservatives have pressed emotional buttons on issues such as the gun registry, on crime, on economic turmoil and on Israel, in a bid to polarize the electorate and win support.
From the other side of the political spectrum, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has also tried to drive his share of wedges.
Marois comes ready to press some buttons of her own, including the most sensitive of issues — culture, language and identity.
Philippe Gervais, a Montreal-based consultant who worked on the 2004 and 2006 federal Conservative campaigns, says Marois can be expected to use Harper and the Conservatives as part of her argument for a majority.
"The Parti Quebecois is going to try to get into fights with Harper and put him out there as a bogeyman," said Gervais.
"Every time one of the further right-wing guys goes out with some crazy idea and goes out on a tangent, they're going to use that."
Still, he said, Harper doesn't necessarily need to soften up his policies on law and order, the environment, and other areas that seem to rankle Quebecers. Rather, he needs to sell them better — a tricky task with so few MPs from the province.
Fox said Marois might actually be surprised to find that Harper responds to some of her demands for more devolution of powers. After all, Harper is a fan of classical federalism and greater decentralization of responsibilities.
"I think initially there may be some room for negotiation, and (with) Madame Marois in a minority situation, that might be the only thing that's palatable to the National Assembly," said Fox.
While Harper figures out how to interact with a separatist in Quebec City, Mulcair will be trying to figure out the right tone to take.
So far, Mulcair has succeeded in keeping a muzzle on his caucus, which includes some members who have flirted with the sovereignty movement. His younger MPs, some of whom were university students when they were elected last spring, have kept dutifully silent during the tuition protests in Quebec.
"It will be a test of the NDP's maturity as an aspiring government whether they can handle those two pressures — the obligation for Mulcair to communicate that he supports a strong Canada and strong federal government, while at the same time not alienating the more nationalist Quebec base that currently has him as leader of the official opposition," said Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre for Policy and Innovation.
Gervais said Mulcair might also find himself in an awkward spot because some of his left-wing political views align with those of Marois.
"As Pauline Marois tries to get into a fight with Harper, does he want to see himself line-up with Marois on a particular issue?"
But will the new reality in Quebec City make a difference to the fortunes of federal politicians outside of the province?
In the past, part of what motivated federal politicians to develop strategies or policies vis-a-vis Quebec was a strong support for national unity elsewhere in Canada. The accepted wisdom was that Ontario voters would support a prime minister who held the country together.
The country just isn't the same as it was Quebec referendum in 1995, said Mendelsohn.
"Patriation and Meech Lake are ancient history and more and more Canadians have no recollection of these issues," said Mendelsohn, also an associate professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.
"New Canadians may study them in their citizenship tests, but the notion of accommodating Quebec is in no way part of the day-to-day grammar of Canadians outside of Quebec anymore."
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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