OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec voters annihilated the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Monday’s election, sweeping virtually all its legislators out of office in a huge blow for those seeking independence for the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province.
The party fell to just four seats from 47 in the last Parliament, cheering both those who want to keep Canada intact as well as financial markets fretting about the possibility of the country breaking up.
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe promptly resigned, although he promised separatism was not dead.
“I am leaving you, but others will follow, until Quebec becomes a country,” Duceppe told despondent supporters, many of them weeping bitterly.
The Bloc was traditionally supported both by hard-liners who wanted independence as well as those who liked the party because it stood up for their interests in Ottawa.
But Duceppe ran an uninspiring campaign that left his supporters vulnerable to a high-energy upbeat campaign by the left-leaning New Democrats of Jack Layton, who took 60 of the 75 seats in the province.
With only a few members of Parliament left, the Bloc will lose official party status in the House of Commons, eliminating funds for its staff.
“It would suggest the demise of the party as a whole,” McGill University political scientist Antonia Maioni told CTV.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who won a majority on Monday, says he will end public subsidies of political parties, which would deplete Bloc resources further.
Maioni said the Quebec vote was not only against the Bloc but against Ottawa politics in general.
“It really is something about hope and change and Jack Layton’s personality, combined with that newness of the party and the positive tone of its message,” she said.
Quebec voters may also have been intrigued by Layton’s promise to reopen the Canadian constitution to meet Quebec demands for more powers, as long as conditions are right.
Harper says Layton’s promises are alarming, since they might resurrect national constitutional clashes of the 1980s and 1990s over Quebec.
“The fortunes of the Bloc Quebecois going down has some benefit,” Harper told CFRA on Monday evening before the election results came in.
As leader of the opposition, Layton will not be in a position to push these ideas for several years at least.
Additional reporting by Pav Jordan and Louise Egan; Editing by Will Dunham