MONTREAL — The leadership of Quebec's independence movement needs to ask itself some tough questions after the election of a majority of federal Liberals in the province, Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday.
The staunchly federalist premier said sovereigntists will have to deal with the fact the Bloc Quebecois' share of the popular vote dropped again as Justin Trudeau's Liberals swept to power.
Four out of five Quebecers who voted opted for parties committed to working within the Canadian federation, something the premier believes should give sovereigntists pause for thought.
"Support for the independence movement has been steadily declining over the last several years," Couillard said.
"But beyond that, what struck me during the campaign is that my opponent here, Mr. (Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl) Peladeau, wanted to speak only on behalf of sovereigntists and did not want to speak on behalf of all Quebecers."
Couillard says Quebec stands to benefit from Trudeau's arrival and a new era of federal-provincial co-operation, with climate change and health transfers topping the premier's priority list.
But Peladeau said parking their vote with Liberals doesn't signal a decline in the desire of Quebecers to create a nation, even though the Bloc garnered only 19.3 per cent of the popular vote.
Peladeau used Facebook to congratulate Trudeau but said the results were driven more by a clear wish to dump Stephen Harper's Tories.
"We should not see this as a negation of the will of Quebecers to affirm themselves as nation and a country," Peladeau wrote.
"Rather, we still exercised our rights as voters within the Canadian federation on a choice as passionate and rational as defeating the Conservatives."
Peladeau compared the Liberal rise to the NDP's orange wave in 2011 and said it was prompted by what he called Trudeau's promise "to move heaven and earth."
One political scientist suggested the NDP's decline in Quebec — from 59 seats in 2011 to 16 on Monday — had a lot to do with a campaign strategy that was too cautious and too dependent on other parties failing.
The niqab issue also struck a blow, said Claude Denis, a professor at the University of Ottawa.
"You could say that was a disaster waiting to happen," Denis noted. "They were vulnerable to Trudeau doing well and to unforeseen events and that's where the niqab came in."
As for the Bloc and the sovereignty movement, Denis said there was little positive to take from Monday night's results.
When the federal campaign began, Peladeau had cautioned against using the Bloc's results to cast any aspersions on the provincial party's fortunes.
He congratulated Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe on the campaign, but admitted they'd hoped for a better result than 10 seats and the 19.3 per cent.
The 10 fell two short of the 12 needed for official party status.
"They were starting from a very rough position, so it was a prudent thing on the part of Mr. Peladeau to say that," Denis said. "But it's true there's nothing in this election result that is encouraging for the sovereignty movement."
But Denis also cautioned the Bloc's fortunes shouldn't be viewed as a proxy for general support for the sovereignty movement.
"In this case in particular, there was so much hostility (toward) the Harper government, every other consideration came second, with the possible exception of the niqab," Denis said, which actually pushed NDP votes to the Liberals.
The Bloc leader, who lost in a bid to regain his own seat, concurred that a waning interest in sovereignty is not what he took from the campaign.
"I don't think there's a great deal of enthusiasm for federalism either," Duceppe said Tuesday.
He said he will announce his political future on Thursday after meeting with party brass and candidates.
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