Jean Charest stepped down yesterday as the leader of Québec’s Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), following his loss in Tuesday’s election for the 125-seat Assemblée nationale.
His party finished less than 0.75% behind the soveriegntist Parti québécois (PQ), and it won just 50 seats to the PQ’s 54. But those four extra seats mean that the PQ will form a minority government under Pauline Marois, bringing Charest’s nine years as premier to an end. Charest himself lost the seat that he has held since 1998 in his election district of Sherbrooke (where he also held a federal seat in the House of Commons from 1984 until leaving federal politics to take the helm of the PLQ).
The race is on to replace him, although outgoing justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier has already said he’s not running, and the remaining candidates are hardly well-known figures:
- Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister since 2009, has only been a MNA since 2005 and, at age 64, may be viewed as too old for the leadership.
- Pierre Moreau, an MNA since 2003, was most recently Charest’s transportation minister.
- Sam Hamad, also an MNA since 2003, the is Syrian-born, a former minister of labour, employment and transport, and most recently minister of economic development.
- Pierre Paradis, an MNA since 1980, who clashed with Charest and never served in Charest’s cabinet, was previously a candidate in the 1983 leadership race that Robert Bourassa won.
In fact, the 1983 contest that Bourassa won was the last contested PLQ leadership race. Bourassa, who was premier of Québec from 1970 to 1976, resigned after losing the 1976 election to the PQ, only to return in 1983 to provincial politics — he would thereupon return as premier from 1985 to 1994.
After nearly three decades at the pinnacle of Canadian and Québécois politics, surely Charest deserves a break — to be a grandfather and to reclaim a bit of his own life.
Well, there’s not much I can add to what the Canadian — and indeed, the Québécois, media — have covered in the past 48 hours.
But let’s just recount:
- In Tuesday’s election, the Parti québécois (PQ) finished first with 31.94% with 54 seats.
- Premier Jean Charest’s Parti liberal du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) came a very-much closer-than-expected 31.20% with 50 seats.
- The newly-formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) trailed narrowly with just 27.05%, but won just 19 seats. That’s surely somewhat of a disappointment for its leader, François Legault, but the party did very well in the Québec City region and former Montréal police chief and anti-corruption figure Jacques Duchesneau won a seat. Nonetheless, the CAQ was the significant gainer in the election and Legault has an excellent chance to build upon his success.
- As such, the PQ leader, Pauline Marois, will form a minority government, and Marois will the first woman to become Québec’s premier, although it seems likely that we’ll see new elections long before the five-year government runs its course.
- Marois’s victory speech was marred by a horrific assassination attempt, which left one man dead and another injured.
- Léo Bureau-Blouin — the articulate 21-year-old and student spokesman — won his seat for the PQ in Laval-des-Rapides.
- The leftist Québec solidaire won both seats for Amir Khadir and rising star Françoise David, but achieved a total vote of just 6.03%. That, however, combined with the 1.90% that the breakaway sovereigntist Option nationale won likely hampered the PQ in its efforts to win a majority government — that’s nearly 8% of the electorate that would likely not have supported the PLQ or the CAQ.
- Charest stepped down as leader yesterday after three decades in political life and after nine years as Québec’s premier. Charest lost his own election district, Sherbrooke, which he has represented in either the federal House of Commons or Québec’s Assemblée nationale.
- Marois has already started to move forward on ending Charest’s planned tuition hikes on students, the controversial Bill 78 limiting street protests and introducing changes to Bill 101, strengthening and enhancing the French-language requirements in the province.