MONTREAL — Canadian media say a separatist party has won power in the Quebec, potentially placing the French-speaking province on course for another referendum to break away from Canada.
Both the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canadian Press news agency called the election for the Parti Quebecois on Tuesday night. PQ leader Pauline Marios will replace Liberal leader Jean Charest, who headed Quebec for nearly a decade, as premier. It was not immediately clear if the PQ won enough votes to obtain a majority of the seats in the Quebec Assembly.
Charest has consistently trailed in the polls to Marois’ Parti Quebecois since he called an early election on Aug. 1. But most polls indicate Marois — who could become the province’s first female premier — will not have enough votes to obtain a majority of the seats in the Quebec Assembly, undermining efforts to quickly hold a referendum on separation.
Quebec has held two referendums to split from Canada, in 1980 and 1995, the last narrowly rejecting independence.
Polls show there’s little appetite for a new referendum and Marois herself has left much uncertainty about if and when one would be held under a PQ government. A recent poll showed support for independence under 30 percent, but analysts say voters are weary of the Liberals after three terms in office.
Quebec voters became tired of the Liberal party after corruption allegations surfaced against the party and student protests erupted this spring, said Bruce Hicks, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal.
“Quebecers tend to tire of the government and throw them out,” he said. “It’s sort of been the tradition in Quebec politics.”
Voting was swift in many corners of the province, with more than half of voters casting ballots almost three hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m., according to election officials.
Ballot counting started shortly afterward.
Walking out of a downtown Montreal polling station, Djessy Monnier, 41, said it was time for a change of government and he voted for the PQ. However, he said a third referendum shouldn’t be a priority.
“Someone is going to have to find a solution to the student conflict,” he said.
Voters elect representatives for seats in Quebec’s 125 districts, a single party needs to obtain 63 seats to form a majority. Without a majority a party will need to form a coalition to govern.
When the legislature was dissolved the Liberals held 64 seats and the PQ 47 with other parties and independents dividing the rest of the seats. One seat was vacant.
“This could be a historic day as we could elect a first woman head of state in Quebec,” Marois said before voting.
More autonomy for Quebec is high on the agenda for the PQ, which has said it would seek a transfer of powers from the federal government in areas like employment insurance and immigration policy. If those measures are rejected, the party believes it would have a stronger case for independence.