In November 1976, in the wake of the first-ever election victory by the secessionist Parti Quebecois, Terry Mosher, the cartoonist for the Montreal Gazette, famously sketched leader Rene Levesque saying, “OK. Everybody take a Valium.”
This week, Quebec voters elected a PQ government for the third time, defeating Jean Charest’s Liberals, who had held power since 2003. Charest lost in his own Sherbrooke riding and the next day resigned as party leader.
This time, there’s little feeling that anybody needs to take any medication to cope with the current incarnation of a PQ government under Pauline Marois, who becomes Quebec’s first female premier. By granting her a weak minority government based on less than 32 percent of the popular vote, Quebecers have hardly endorsed a push for a split with the rest of Canada.
After the votes were counted Tuesday night, the PQ had won 54 seats to the Liberals, 50 in the 125-seat National Assembly. The right-leaning Coalition Avenir Quebec picked up 19 seats and the socialist-separatist Quebec Solidaire two.
Election night took a dramatic and deadly turn when a man tried to enter the Montreal club where the PQ was celebrating and shot one man dead, wounded two others and set a fire. Police quickly arrested a 62-year-old suspect who seems to be mentally unstable and not part of some organized plot.
The incident cast a shadow of horror over election night, but life goes on and the government elected this week will have to learn to live with the message voters have delivered. The substance of that message is the people of Quebec do not want a referendum on independence.
The 63-year-old Marois campaigned quite openly on her desire to see Quebec become a separate country. In one of the leaders’ debates, she said if she could make Quebec sovereign tomorrow, she would. But she can’t, and chances are she won’t, not in the current climate of relative social peace and prosperity in the province.