Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest has announced his resignation, bringing a long, turbulent career as premier to a close.
"The decision was unanimous. I will leave my post as leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec in a few days, once a new government is formed," he said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"As a father, who will soon be a grandfather, it's as if life was sending me a signal," he added. "From the bottom of my heart, I give a great thank-you to Quebecers. You have been marvelous."
In 2003, Charest ended nine years of Parti Quebecois rule to become premier, only to return it to the PQ in 2012 in a race that was closer than many pundits and pollsters expected.
"I want to say to all of you tonight, and to all of you interested in the future of Quebec, that the result of this election campaign speaks to the fact that the future of Quebec lies within Canada," Charest would later tell a glum gathering at the party's Sherbrooke HQ, garnering, at least, the most spirited applause of the night.
As the Montreal Gazette reports, Charest's absence would give leadership hopefuls a healthy stretch to vie for the job he held down for the last nine years — and rebuild a fractured Liberal Party in Quebec.
For Charest, it's an unfortunate endnote to a political biography that has spanned decades — and crossed party lines.
A practising lawyer in his hometown, Charest won the federal seat for Sherbrooke as a Progressive Conservative MP in 1984. The triumph led to a plum position as minister of state for youth in the Brian Mulroney government. At 28, that made him the youngest member of a federal cabinet ever.
When voters handed the PCs a near-extinction notice in the 1993 federal election, Charest was the party's last surviving cabinet member — making him a rather easy choice for interim party leader in 1995. Again, the unlikely lawyer from Sherbrooke made history as the party's first leader of Francophone descent — battered though it may have been at the time.
The PCs never recovered. Before Charest's career could, he would have to switch sides — a play he made in 1998, as a provincial Liberal. It wasn't until 2003, however, that he managed to wrest control of Quebec from the Parti Quebecois with a majority win.
Charest never let voters forget that he was an avowed federalist tilting at sovereigntist windmills.
“I am a federalist," he told a room-full of journalists as recently as August 31. "I am a Quebecer who believes in Canada I think that the interests of Quebec and the interests of Canada do not contradict each other."
While Charest rarely overwhelmed in the polls — and was frequently a target for Quebecers' frustrations — he did manage to earn still another distinction.
Along with Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, Charest was the longest actively serving Canadian premier.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that both premiers have been accused of overstaying their welcome.
The Toronto Sun went so far as to predict pre-election Charest looked to be going down "like a flaming sambuca."
"A back-from-the-grave Parti Québécois is only part of Charest’s problem; after nine years in power, he can’t outrun the desire for change that dogs all governments long in the tooth," wrote Greg Van Moorsel.
Then again, few premiers have ever had to endure the political travails Charest did.
AN UNENVIABLE POSITION
The health of Quebec's coffers proved one of Charest's earliest challenges as premier. He scrambled to find new sources of revenue — adding a gamut of fees to public services, hiking hydro rates and slapping businesses with a carbon tax.
And his position on the Kyoto Accord won him few friends in Ottawa. Charest was a vocal critic of the federal government's decision to pull out of the environmental pact.
It all added up to a deeply unpopular premier, still freshly into his term — and one dogged at every turn by the PQ's separatist ambitions.
THE GREAT UNIFIER?
In fact, The Globe and Mail recently paid homage to this 'national unity giant'.
"For 17 years, he has thwarted separatist ambitions," columnist Lawrence Martin wrote. "Although he never seems to get much credit, we owe him some."
In 2007, he campaigned hard on the promise of deep income tax cuts, a luxury partly afforded by increased equalization payments from Ottawa and higher tuition fees.
It was the latter, however, that would return to haunt him.
THE STUDENT STORM
Charest may have eked out a minority win in 2007, but Quebec students wouldn't soon forget.
In February this year, the student issue exploded after the Charest government tabled another tuition hike.
Some 165,000 students took to the streets in what has been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
It was a storm that few premiers could weather, much less one of the most unpopular premiers in Canadian history — and the protests quickly spun into a national discourse on civil liberty.
FLAG-BEARER FOR THE SAME OLD?
Of course, students alone didn't take down the surprisingly resilient premier. It was more like a combination of issues that had been simmering throughout his tenure.
Yahoo News writer Andy Radia breaks it down into three overarching factors:
Corruption, especially in the province's building industry, continued to sap away at Charest's image.
Also, Quebec's economy could hardly withstand the rigours of a worldwide slowdown —
a situation considerably exacerbated by the student strike.
And finally, Radia writes, there was that age-old dilemma faced by every long-standing political leader. How do you convince voters that you stand for change, when you've simply been standing around too long?
In any case, Charest's resignation doesn't necessarily signify the end of his political career. And, indeed, it would be hard to bet against a man who managed to tame the PQ in three straight elections.
“He’s young,” a Montreal Gazette source tells the newspaper. “He can do something else. Or he could come back into politics one day.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Jean Charest won one majority government in Quebec. In fact, he won two; one in 2003 and the other in 2008.
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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