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Harper boosts the Bloc in Quebec; Dumont is out, Khadir is in

It was not supposed to be this way. Pollsters expected the 2008 Quebec general election – 18 months after the last ones – to be predictable and with few surprises. Leader of Parti Libéral du Québec Jean Charest was supposed to win a significant majority, with more than 70 seats out of 125.

Jean Charest might have won his majority, and been successful in his bid for a third mandate, but with 66 members – only three more than what is needed for a majority – and a National assembly more diverse than ever, yesterday’s general election was all but boring.

Quebeckers’ love affair with conservatism will have been short. Less than two years ago, the ADQ had gained momentum at the National assembly with the election of 41 members, enough to become an official party, and enough to become the official opposition.

Mario Dumont and his autonomist right-wing party lost it all yesterday. With 7 elected members, and 16 per cent of the votes, the ADQ can not even be recognized as an official party. Under the current system, to be officially recognized, a political movement needs to elect 12 MNAs or gain 20 per cent of the votes. His party’s poor showing was enough for Dumont to resign, 14 years after he became the head of the ADQ.

Turnout was the other big loser yesterday. At 57 per cent it is deemed as the lowest since 1927. That’s 14 points behind the elections of March 26, 2007.

Jean Charest had called this election with an issue in mind: the economy. His party has traditionally been more renown for its stands on the economy. Yet he found himself having an election in the middle of another political crisis.

Parti Québécois won 51 seats, 15 more than in March of 2007, when it lost its Official opposition status and did one of its worst showings in its history.

“We form today the strongest official opposition since the Quiet revolution,” said a relieved Pauline Marois, referring to a defining moment in the nationalist movement. Marois is not the first female leader of the official opposition.

Radio-Canada analyst Michel C. Auger credited Stephen Harper’s address to the nation last Wednesday as one of the factors for the PQ’s surprising performance yesterday. According to Auger, Stephen Harper’s arguments against the legitimacy of the Bloc québécois was all Sovereigntists electors needed to go vote on Monday. Many voters he talked to mentioned these events as a factor they considered to vote for the PQ rather than a third party or not to vote at all.

The most surprising winner of the evening is without any doubt Québec solidaire (QS) a new party defining itself as feminist, progressive, sovereigntist and ecologist. Despite a mere 4 per cent at the provincial level, QS managed to elect co-leader Amir Khadir in Mercier, an urban riding deemed as one of the most progressive in the province. A medical specialist involved with Médecins sans frontières, the Iran-born politician is the number 2 of the political movement, behind other co-leader Françoise David, a renown feminist.

Quebec solidaire’s winning means that for the first time, the National Assembly hosts two nationalist parties and a diversity of political options, ranging from a right-wing autonomist party to a left-wing sovereigntist party, with a center-left nationalist party and a center-right federalist party. Quebeckers also voted for four years of stability, without all the dramas

For political analyst Vincent Marissal, yesterday’s results show that everything is back to “normal” in Quebec. “Normal”, because Jean Charest earned the right to govern for 8 to 9 years, which is the norm in the province. “Normal”, because Jean Charest never got it easy with Quebeckers. And “normal”, because the PQ regained its status as a viable alternative to the PLQ.

According to political columnist Chantal Hébert, yesterday’s election might also have an impact at the House of Commons. Mario Dumont might be tempted to do a come-back with the Conservatives. After his mandate at the National Assembly, Jean Charest, a former head of the Progressive Conservative party of Canada, might also want to do a come-back at the federal level. And Pauline Marois’ success as the new leader of the Parti Québécois means, indeed, that leader of the Bloc Québécois Gilles Duceppe won’t move from Ottawa any time soon.

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