by Geoffrey Kelley
Election night in Quebec was a long night for the Quebec Liberal Party and its candidates. The party lost a third of its seats in the National Assembly, and its share of the popular vote fell from 46 to 33 per cent. Gains made in the 2003 election in Quebec City and the regions were wiped out, leaving a caucus formed primarily of MNAs from Montreal, the Outaouais and the Eastern Townships.
The good news, if there was any, centred on the plight of the Liberals’ longtime adversary, the Parti Québécois, which also had a long night on March 26. Its popular support fell to 28 per cent, the lowest since the 1973 election. More significantly, the PQ was reduced to third-place status in the legislature, holding 36 seats.
The big winner was the upstart Action Démocratique du Québec, which made big gains in the Quebec heartland. It swept the Chaudières-Appalaches and Beauce regions southeast of Quebec City, won seven of eleven seats in Quebec City itself and made significant gains in the Mauricie, Lanaudière, Laurentian and Montérégie regions surrounding Montreal. These victories catapulted ADQ leader Mario Dumont into the role of Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, and represented a startling rise from four seats in 2003 to 41 in 2007. The result was the first minority government in Quebec since 1878, with a battered Quebec Liberal Party holding on to power.
What does this mean for the parties? For the PQ, the answer came quickly. On the eve of the first sitting of the new Assembly, leader André Boisclair resigned. He was replaced by Pauline Marois, who has signalled her intention to rethink the PQ’s strategy on holding another referendum and to revamp its program. Clearly, the new leader has work to do in the next few months to reposition her party.
For the ADQ, the challenge is to consolidate the gains made, develop more comprehensive policies on key issues and learn the ropes as new members of the legislature. The party’s decision not to participate in finding a solution to the impasse over the spring budget drew some criticism from the media, which felt that the ADQ had a duty to try to make the minority parliament work.
The challenges for the Liberals are complex. First, they must find a way to reinvent themselves while governing at the same time. This is never an easy task. With key ministers caught up in the day-to-day grind of managing the province’s business, they have less time for policy matters. In addition, with a smaller caucus, Premier Jean Charest was forced to reduce his cabinet to 18 members, the smallest cabinet in recent memory. Several ministers are called on to take on two or even three cabinet responsibilities.
A key event for the Quebec Liberal Party and its renewal is a members’ convention scheduled for March 7–9, 2008, in Quebec City. Over the next few months, working groups will be set up to prepare policy proposals for this event. Three groups have already been formed to this end: one group is examining the question of economic and regional development; a second is looking at issues related to sustainable development; and a third is tackling the question of Quebec’s identity and its relations with Canada. In launching these groups, the Premier indicated that these themes were chosen to “clearly distinguish ourselves from our adversaries.” He appealed to Quebecers who “want a society that is more prosperous, greener and that grows within Canada.”1