Quebec Liberals Defeat Separatists in Canadian Election

Quebec voters gave a majority mandate to the Liberal Party, led by neurosurgeon Philippe Couillard, after an election campaign focused on fears the separatist Parti Quebecois would seek another vote on splitting from Canada.

The Liberals were elected in 70 of 125 seats according to results compiled by the province’s chief electoral officer. The Parti Quebecois was reduced to 30 seats as incumbents across the French-speaking province, including Premier Pauline Marois, were defeated. Marois announced she would step down as party leader.

The results complete a comeback for the Liberals, who were defeated by Marois less than two years ago. Couillard, 56, swept to power by stoking fears of another referendum and stressing the need to promote growth in Canada’s second most-populous province.

“All Quebec has won by giving itself a stable government,” Couillard told supporters in Saint-Felicien, Quebec after the votes were counted. He pledged to run an administration focused on employment and prosperity, and to work to overcome linguistic divisions.

Vote Shares

Couillard’s Liberals took 42 percent of the vote, compared with 25 percent for the Parti Quebecois. The Coalition Avenir Quebec, led by businessman Francois Legault, was elected in 22 seats with 23 percent of the vote, while Quebec Solidaire, another separatist party, was elected in three seats, capturing 7.6 percent of ballots cast. About 71 percent of the 6 million eligible voters cast ballots.

The extra yield investors demand to hold Quebec bonds instead of those from Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, declined during the campaign as the prospect of another Parti Quebecois victory dimmed. The Canadian dollar rose to its strongest level in six weeks against the U.S. dollar last week.

“The Quebec election dispelled fears of separation, leaving Quebec bonds still at a discount versus Ontario,” said Sebastien Galy, senior currency strategist with Societe Generale in New York, in a note to clients. “This election won’t help the oversupply in housing in Quebec, but it will likely help give a positive impulse to its economy.”

Economists Elected

Liberals who were elected included Carlos Leitao, former chief economist of Montreal-based Laurentian Bank of Canada, who was ranked the second-most accurate forecaster of the U.S. economy by Bloomberg in 2008. Jacques Daoust, a former executive at Laurentian Bank and Montreal-based National Bank of Canada, also won, as did Martin Coiteux, an economist who worked at the Bank of Canada’s Montreal office.

The Liberals promised to create 250,000 jobs in Quebec over five years, according to the Liberal website. The province added 204,900 jobs over the past five years through March, Statistics Canada data shows. Quebec’s economy added 15,100 jobs last month, second behind British Columbia, the statistics agency said April 4. That pushed Quebec’s unemployment rate down to 7.6 percent from 7.8 percent in February, compared with 6.9 percent for all of Canada.

Budget Deficit

Quebec is budgeting a C$1.75 billion ($1.59 billion) deficit for the fiscal year that began April 1. Couillard has vowed to balance the budget in fiscal 2015-16. To get there, he plans to reduce spending by C$1.3 billion over two years, including 500 job cuts in the education ministry and a 10 percent reduction in “bureaucracy” of the health ministry.

Couillard has also pledged to revive the so-called Plan Nord, a strategy to tap mining and energy resources in the province’s north that Marois scaled back soon after her election. Former Liberal Premier Jean Charest unveiled the plan in 2011, promising C$80 billion of government and company investment by 2036 in an area twice the size of France.

Head Offices

The Liberal website promises support for small- and medium-sized businesses and the province’s forestry sector, and says a Liberal government would protect company head offices in Montreal by allowing a provincial fund to buy as much as 10 percent of companies facing hostile takeover bids.

The results were devastating for Marois, 65, who began the campaign with a promise to implement a “Charter of Values”, which would ban the wearing of religious dress and headgear by state employees such as doctors and teachers, and a lead in opinion polls. That advantage disappeared after she recruited as a candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau, the former head of Quebecor Inc., the province’s largest media company. Peladeau’s vow to fulfill a dream to make Quebec independent focused the campaign on sovereignty, and sparked Marois’ decline.

“If I have one regret tonight, it’s that I wasn’t able to reinforce the presence of French in all areas,” Marois told supporters at a rally in Montreal. “We must persevere, defend and promote our language, everywhere and all the time,” she said.

Economy Focus

“The results clearly demonstrate that Quebeckers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an e-mailed statement.

Bernard Drainville, a Parti Quebecois lawmaker who as minister was responsible for the charter, insisted the party would bounce back from the loss.

“We have reason to be disappointed, but I can tell you something -- we will never give up,” Drainville told supporters at a downtown Montreal hotel late last night. “In our history, we have gone through far worse ordeals than an electoral loss. We are going to come together and we are going come back even stronger to win the next election,” he said, sparking cheers from the crowd of about 500.

Polarized Vote

Legault, whose three-year-old party won three more seats than in 2012, said the polarized nature of the latest campaign benefited the Liberals.

“This was a quasi-referendum election, and I regret that,” Legault said today at a televised press conference in Montreal. “We have challenges in our economy, and this wasn’t talked about enough” during the campaign, he said.

Couillard was first elected to the provincial legislature in 2003. He was appointed health minister, holding the post for five years before quitting politics to work as a consultant and serve on boards of companies such as Amorfix Life Sciences Ltd. and Thallion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Couillard re-entered politics last year to run for the Liberal leadership after Charest quit. He won that race with 59 percent support.

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