Sep 5, 2012 / 7:05 am
A celebration of the Parti Quebecois' return to power was shattered Tuesday, first by a political disappointment, then by a stunning tragedy.
The party won a minority government with a weaker-than-desired result, of 54 seats won out of 125, that could severely limit its ability to pursue its independence agenda.
A victory speech by premier-in-waiting Pauline Marois was then marred by an exceptionally ugly scene: she was whisked off the stage by guards during an attack in which two people were shot, one was killed, and a fire was set behind the hall where she spoke.
Police tackled a masked, housecoat-wearing suspect to the ground and took him away in a patrol car. The two people shot were originally listed in critical condition, and one was later pronounced dead. Televised images showed a long gun being confiscated.
The middle-aged suspect, while being dragged toward the police cruiser, shouted in French, "The English are waking up!"
Police told reporters early Wednesday the suspect is 62 but did not reveal his name. Police also said the second shooting victim, who was taken to hospital in critical condition, was no longer in danger.
Police said two weapons had been seized at the scene and because an incendiary device was used, four or five families in the immediate area had been evacuated as police searched for any other possible devices.
It was certainly the most tragic, and least jubilant, election win in the PQ's long history.
Even before the attack there was some frustration at the Metropolis club, where the partisan PQ crowd had assembled. The party has never governed with a minority in its history and, therefore, has never needed to seek the support of other parties to table a referendum question, an inaugural speech, or any other confidence measure.
The PQ's score in the popular vote was lower than any time it has ever governed, with just 32 per cent. That was just one percentage point more than the governing Liberals, who staved off the electoral annihilation many had predicted. The new Coalition party had 27 per cent.
The attack then took place, ironically, just after Marois delivered a conciliatory message in English, a rare occurrence at a partisan PQ event.
After an emotionally charged campaign that saw her party focus on language-and-identity issues, Marois promised English-speaking Quebecers that their rights would be protected. She also spoke of co-operation in the legislature with her opponents.
"Quebecers made their choice," Marois said, in a reference to the limits of governing with a minority. "We will respect their choice by governing with all those elected."
She did promise to continue working for independence and her party faithful chanted nationalist slogans.
But the limitations of the victory were underscored in the bitter boos from the crowd that greeted each reference to opposing politicians. Earlier in the evening, people in the crowd also booed as they watched outgoing premier Jean Charest speak English in his concession speech.
How narrow was this victory?
Even after having been in power for nine years and serving three terms, sustaining numerous scandals, and having lost his own seat Tuesday, it was still unclear whether Charest would actually need to resign as Liberal leader.
In a fiery speech, Charest paid tribute to his Liberal party's core values, such as belonging to Canada, and he predicted it would continue to thrive.
The suddenly seatless political veteran gave no inkling of his future plans and repeatedly referred to "us" and "we" Liberals keeping the minority government in check. A close ally told The Canadian Press that she expects him to consult his caucus on future plans.
Tuesday's election result was greeted with perhaps the greatest sigh of relief, ever, to follow any of the five elections the PQ has won in its history. In an early reaction from federal politicians, Liberal Leader Bob Rae bluntly described the result on Twitter as: "Quebec voters reject separatist project."
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