A Canadian byelection win in a Liberal stronghold has been described as “the beginning of the end” for Premier Jean Charest’s government according to the leader of victorious Parti Quebecois.
Pauline Marois heralded the win, claiming it would lead to sovereignty for the province of Quebec.
Argenteuil riding, north of Montreal was won last week by 71-year-old retiree Roland Richer who in doing so overturned 50 years of Liberal domination.
An ecstatic Marois told supporters the win marked “the beginning of the end” for Premier Jean Charest’s government, which has been hit by a series of scandals as well as social unrest with protests from students angry about proposed increases in tuition fees.
“Today, the Quebecers of Argenteuil sent a message to Jean Charest,” the PQ leader said, adding “They said no to corruption, no to Liberal cynicism. They said yes to change, yes to hope.
“We will change the government, we will change direction — and we will change countries,” Marois then added to rapturous agreement: “We want a country.”
Marois told the Argenteuil crowd that power belongs to all Quebecers and not just “the Liberals and their friends.” Saying she hoped Quebecers voted massively in the next election “to get rid of this corrupt government,”
PQ support was up from previous elections, with Francois Legault’s upstart Coalition For Quebec’s Future also taking some of the Liberals’ traditional votes on Monday night.
Premier Jean Charest was defiant, describing the result in Argenteuil as a “postponement” of the Liberal victory in the riding.
“We’re going to look at the results,” Charest said of the Argenteuil outcome as he talked to reporters. “It was a close result. It’s not a result that says there was total domination. On the contrary, the election result was very close.”
Charest called the byelections after months of unrest that saw some student protests turn violent. As the campaign began, Charest also had the baggage of an inquiry into construction industry corruption and the awarding of public contracts.
The Liberal leader defended his party’s handling of the student situation, adding: “We have done everything humanly possible,”
Nightly demonstrations have been held in several Quebec cities and people have taken to banging pots and pans not only in support of the students but against a law passed by Charest’s government that puts tighter limits on demonstrations.
The protest attracted international attention with many female students appearing topless at demos. Some analysts had predicted the Liberal’s uncompromising handling of the protests would see the party benefit at the polls.
However, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman for the hardline CLASSE student group, tweaked the analysts on Twitter as the results came in.
“Looking forward to hearing from those who were saying the student strike would benefit the Liberals,” he tweeted.
Argenteuil had been Liberal since 1966. Charest’s party had started with a decent lead, although the PQ crept up steadily before passing them in a shock late turnaround.