POLITICS
04/08/2014 09:06 EDT | Updated 04/08/2014 09:59 EDT

Crushing Defeat A Stinging Rebuke For Parti Québécois, Sovereignty Movement

Pauline Marois became the fourth consecutive premier to lose his or her own riding Monday, as the Parti Québécois was handed an even more crushing defeat than many in the party had expected.

Philippe Couillard's Liberals took 70 seats and 42 per cent of the vote, returning to power after just 18 months on the opposition benches.

The PQ was reduced from 54 to just 30 seats with 25 per cent support, their lowest share of the vote since the party's first electoral outing under René Lévesque in 1970.

The performance of François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec, particularly in the suburbs to the north and south of Montreal, sunk the PQ.

Though the CAQ did drop from 27 per cent to 23 per cent of the vote as compared to 2012, the party increased its seat total from 18 at dissolution to 22.

Seeing that he may now have an opportunity to replace the PQ as the alternative to the Liberals by the next election, Legault promised to stay on as leader of the party for the next four years.

Marois, on the other hand, announced her resignation. She had little choice. She had dissolved her own minority government in a quest for a majority and failed.

Marois lost in her own riding of Charlevoix-Côte-de-Beaupré, making her the latest incumbent provincial leader to fail to win a seat after Jean Charest in 2012 and Christy Clark and Darrell Dexter in 2013.

That the race to replace her has already begun was showcased when Jean-François Lisée, Bernard Drainville, and Pierre Karl Péladeau each gave speeches before Marois took the podium to announce she was calling it quits.

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Photo gallery Quebec Election 2014 Day In Pictures See Gallery

The PQ was not only hamstrung by the CAQ, which made spectacular gains after an energetic performance by Legault in the second leaders debate, but also by the left-wing sovereigntist party Québec Solidaire. The little party continues to make gains, after winning one seat in 2008, two in 2012, and three last night with seven per cent of the vote.

The growth of QS changes the electoral calculations in Quebec significantly. The last time that four parties took at least seven per cent of the vote in a Quebec provincial election was 44 years ago. Coincidentally — or perhaps not — that was the last time the PQ took such a little share of the popular vote.

Couillard takes power in unusual circumstances, with his victory being won primarily due to opposition to what the Parti Québécois would, or might, have done in power.

The Liberals won't hold a referendum and will not pass the secular charter — but that will not fill the next four years.

Couillard will get a rude awakening when it comes time to write his first budget, as many impartial observers said the Liberals' fiscal plan was predicated on unreasonable expectations of growth.

The Charbonneau Commission will re-start its work this week as well, as it turns its focus towards provincial party fundraising.

But that is the future. For now, the legacy of the campaign that came to an end last night will be the stinging rebuke suffered by the Parti Québécois and the sovereignty movement as a whole.

While the Liberals will tackle governing for the next four years, the PQ will need work on rejuvenating its project or watch it wither away.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.