Liberals take Quebec vote, but separatists gain

Tue Dec 9, 2008 4:01pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec separatists were in an upbeat mood on Tuesday, despite a third consecutive election defeat, saying the Parti Quebecois's surprisingly strong performance was good reason to be optimistic.

The party, which wants the largely French-speaking province of Quebec to break away from Canada, won 51 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature in Monday's election, up from the 36 seats it had held previously. It also won 35 percent of the popular vote -- around 5 percentage points more than expected.

The ruling Liberals won 66 seats, up from the 48 they won in March 2007, and will form a majority government. They took 42 percent of the popular vote.

The Liberals and the Parti Quebecois gained at the expense of the right-leaning Action democratique du Quebec, which came close to winning in 2007. This time the ADQ won just seven seats, down from the 39 it held when the vote was called.

With the Liberal Party winning a majority, the province will likely sideline any talk of separation from Canada for the next four years or so.

Yet Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois took heart from her party's best performance since 1998 -- the last time it won power in the huge province of 7.5 million people.

"We're getting down to work again because we've seen a real revival of our political movement. I'm at the head of a party that is in good health financially and organizationally," she told a televised news conference.

The separatist movement reached a peak in 1995, when the province's then-Parti Quebecois government held a referendum on separation from Canada, which failed narrowly.   Continued...

<p>Quebec Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest (C) and his wife Michele Dionne (L) greet supporters at his election night rally in Sherbrooke, Quebec, December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>