Dominique Anglade pledges to 'represent all Quebecers' as Liberals lead a divided opposition

Dominique Anglade pledges to 'represent all Quebecers' as Liberals lead a divided opposition

The Quebec Liberal Party has lost some seats but will return to the Quebec National Assembly as Official Opposition.

Leader Dominique Anglade faced a tight race in her own Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne in Monday's provincial election but was elected by just over 2,700 votes.

With 99.9 per cent of polls reporting, the Liberals are leading or elected in 21 ridings, the majority of which are in the Montreal area.

In 2018, the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) won 32 seats — a historic low for the party at the time.

"The message tonight is clear: Quebecers are asking us to be the Official Opposition in the National Assembly," an energetic Anglade told the crowd at her party headquarters Monday night, shortly after her own win was assured.

"And let me be clear, we will represent all Quebecers, of all stripes," she said. "In the next days, weeks and months, you will see that I will deploy the same energy, the same conviction, the same ambition."

Heading into this year's election with 27 seats at dissolution, the PLQ faced an uphill battle as the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) had gained popularity over the course of two years of managing COVID-19.  Anglade was named Liberal leader in May 2020, two months into the pandemic, making it hard to gain recognition as Legault dominated airwaves with public health announcements.

Hours after the polls closed Monday, it appeared the PLQ would keep most of its Montreal seats — though it lost Maurice-Richard and Verdun to Québec Solidaire (QS) and Anjou–Louis-Riel to the CAQ. And it failed to hold onto ridings in much of the rest of the province.

Christine St-Pierre, a former Liberal MNA and cabinet minister from 2014 to 2018, said the news that the party would retain Official Opposition status came as a relief.

"It's up to us now to make sure that we will be a strong opposition and to make sure that we will ask strong questions," St-Pierre told CBC News at the party headquarters in Montreal.

Carlos Leitão, a former Liberal finance minister and chair of the PLQ campaign, said he is confident about the future of the Liberals in Anglade's hands.

"Now she has four years to complete the job of refocusing and recentring the party," said Leitão, who was also at PLQ headquarters. He said Anglade would have to work to retain the Liberal base in Montreal while reaching out to voters in the rest of the province.

Even combined, a shrunken opposition

With candidates declared elected or leading in 11 ridings, Québec Solidaire, a left-wing sovereignist party, ends the election with just one more seat than in 2018. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the party's co-spokesperson, had run a campaign to sell QS as a worthy opposition to the CAQ leader and incumbent premier, François Legault.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

With about half the seats of the Liberals despite taking a larger share of the popular vote, Nadeau-Dubois said his party would be a "vigilant opposition" that would propose solutions and resist "bad decisions."

Throughout the campaign, Legault had attacked QS's environmental platform, which included imposing new taxes on the most polluting vehicles. Experts have said the CAQ's proposals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will cause Quebec to fall well short of its 2030 target.

In an impassioned speech to QS supporters, Nadeau-Dubois said when MNAs return to the National Assembly, he will not let up on the incumbent premier when it comes to climate change.

"Monsieur Legault, I'm only asking one thing in this new mandate: that you listen to Quebec's youth. We have a responsibility to listen to the generation who will live the consequences of our choices today," Nadeau-Dubois said in his speech.

"It's not too late to act. It's not too late to change your mind. It's not too late to change direction."

WATCH | Leader speeches from Quebec election night:

One of the founding members of Québec Solidaire and a former co-spokesperson, Amir Khadir, said that while the party was hoping for more seats, it is still in its early years. QS was founded in 2006, electing Khadir in 2008, and in the ensuing decade, it slowly but steadily gained seats.

"A lot of our English-speaking citizens did not have the opportunity to know Québec Solidaire [well]," Khadir said.

He said the party would prove its strength on issues related to climate change, immigration, social justice and identity.

"On these matters, I'm sure Québec Solidaire will be the real combative opposition that people need to oppose the policies of the CAQ government," Khadir said.

Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press
Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois was elected in just three seats, down from nine in 2018. Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon won his own riding of Camille-Laurin, taking the seat from the CAQ's Richard Campeau, and the party hung onto Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Matane-Matapédia.

In his speech to supporters, St-Pierre Plamondon warned that Quebec cannot lose its way and forget the goal of independence.

"The destiny of Quebec is to become a country," he said. "We are the party that will work tirelessly for the realization of independence."

Together, the opposition parties will make up about 30 per cent of the 125 seats in the National Assembly, against a dominant CAQ majority. The CAQ is leading or elected in 90 seats.

Bernard Brault/The Canadian Press
Bernard Brault/The Canadian Press

Though the rising popularity of the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) under its new leader, Éric Duhaime, presented a threat to the CAQ and Liberals during the campaign, the party was not able to pick up a single seat.

In the riding of Chauveau, Duhaime lost to CAQ candidate Sylvain Lévesque by more than 6,000 votes.

Votes that went to the PCQ, however, appear to have caused the Liberals to lose some ground in Laval, where the PLQ has historically fared well, according to one Liberal candidate in the city.

"I think it's the pandemic," said Sonia Beaudelot, the Liberal candidate for Fabre. No other party in the National Assembly opposed public health restrictions with the ferocity of the PCQ, which ran some candidates known to have dabbled in pandemic conspiracy theories.

Two Laval ridings flipped from Liberal to CAQ. Beaudelot's Fabre riding remained tight past midnight, but the CAQ's Alice Abou-Khalil eventually one by 302 votes.

Beaudelot said she was excited for Quebecers to get to know Anglade a little better.

"She's such a strong woman. She's a mom. She's in politics. She's an engineer. What can you not admire?" she asked. "She has the memory of an elephant, and she never gives up. She really never gives up."