04/07/2014 10:58 EDT | Updated 06/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec Election 2014: Federal Leaders Cheer Parti Quebecois Loss


OTTAWA - The Conservatives, NDP and Liberals don't usually agree on much, but Monday's decisive triumph by a unabashedly federalist leader in Quebec was a development to which they could all raise a glass.

The trickier issue — keeping Quebecers interested in Canada and its federal parties over the long term — is something they'll have to reflect on long after the champagne has gone flat.

But on Monday night at least, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard was a popular guy in Ottawa.

"On behalf of our government, I would like to convey my sincerest congratulations to Philippe Couillard on his election victory," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

"The results clearly demonstrate that Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation. We look forward to working with the new government of Quebec on those priorities."

The opposition parties were more effusive in their praise for Couillard — the Liberals in particular, who pointedly declared their support for him during the campaign.

"I am proud that my fellow Quebecers have chosen unity and acceptance as we move forward together," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said in a statement.

"As a Quebecer, I am thrilled that my province will be represented by as dedicated a leader as Philippe Couillard. I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to his entire team. I look forward to working alongside them to help bring about economic growth and a strong, thriving middle class."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose party holds the most federal seats in Quebec, also wished Couillard hearty congratulations.

"The NDP has taken note of the people's desire to end the old quarrels, and the new premier can count on us to promote Quebec's interests in Ottawa, as part of our effort to build a more just and prosperous Canada for all," Mulcair said.

"Having sat alongside Mr. Couillard in cabinet, I can attest to his competence and his commitment to Quebec and its institutions. In the name of all New Democrats, I would like to wish Mr. Couillard all the best in his new role."

The threat of another referendum on sovereignty, which seemed like a foregone conclusion at the start in the campaign when Marois was leading in the polls, created nervous shivers around Parliament Hill.

Shortly after the campaign began, Harper consulted with the other party leaders, and together they appeared to agree that they should studiously keep out of the election in order to avoid giving Marois any extra anti-Ottawa ammunition.

But some observers say it would be a mistake for the federal parties to let their guard down, and confuse the Parti Quebecois defeat with a fatal blow to the sovereignty movement.

"We will never give up. We've gone through much harder setbacks than an electoral defeat," PQ cabinet minister Bernard Drainville told supporters late Monday, later leading the crowd in a chant of "We want a nation!"

Robert Asselin, associate director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, said the election was more a rejection of the negativity of the Parti Quebecois' campaign, which used its controversial values charter as a wedge issue.

"There's important work for the federal parties to recaptivate Quebecers in the Canadian federation," said Asselin.

"For four elections, Quebecers voted massively for the Bloc (Quebecois). The last time they voted NDP; that was a party that presented itself as sympathetic to Quebec nationalists, so there's a lot of work to be done among the federal parties to convince Quebecers to re-embark with Canada.

The moment might be right, with Couillard in Quebec City, for the feds to consider becoming more actively engaged with the province, said Graham Fox, president of the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

That would include a more collaborative approach to Senate reform, once the Supreme Court renders its opinion on how to go about it. Other outreach could include solidifying more administrative agreements on policy issues — working, for instance, on the Champlain Bridge.

"Anyone who is leading a political party in Ottawa would be wise, instead of waiting for the next possibility of a showdown, (to) take this opportunity to be prepared and find more lasting solutions to our constitutional problems," said Fox.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau said the presence of a federalist such as Couillard in Quebec City is a reason for great optimism in renewing Quebec-Ottawa relations.

"I think the conditions are the best that they've been for a long time, and that's promising," said Garneau.

"Hopefully Quebecers will be happy with the way that relationship develops, and if there isn't that tension that has a way of showing up when you have the PQ working with the federal government, then hopefully it will have the effect of pushing sovereignty further back."

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