MONTREAL — Members of Quebec’s business community breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday after the Liberal party was voted to a majority government in provincial elections.
Just 18 months after going down to defeat in 2012, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals scored a resounding win, prompting Pauline Marois to quit as Parti Quebecois leader after she lost both her government and her seat in the legislature.
The Liberals were elected to 70 seats, compared with 30 for the Parti Quebecois and 22 for the third-place Coalition for Quebec’s Future. In its previous minority government, the Parti Quebecois held 54 seats, with 50 for the Liberals and 19 for the Coalition.
Dorval called the results a vindication for the Liberals and the Coalition, both of which opted to make the economy central planks of their election platforms.
Business leaders are hopeful that will herald an era of stability marked by new investments, jobs and real-estate activity in the province.
“I think the business community will be pleased,” said Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of the Quebec Employers Council.
“There was a question mark in the air and now a majority government will certainly provide a better, stable and foreseeable environment.”
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said his organization looks forward to working with the new administration, having enjoyed an excellent partnership with various Quebec governments over the last 20 years.
“All, regardless of party, have had a shared commitment to the very important Quebec-New York relationship,” Douglas told the Press-Republican by email.
“Transitioning our relationship to the new government will be important, and we are in a strong position, knowing Mr. Couillard and many of his colleagues already.
“We have been engaging in active outreach for several weeks so we would be ready for any outcome, and that will serve us well as we continue to serve, in former (Liberal) Premier Jean Charest’s words, as Quebec’s best friend in the U.S.”
JOBS AMONG ISSUES
Polls heading into Monday’s vote suggested jobs, the economy and health care were dominant issues for voters. Sovereignty, language and the controversial values charter — all central PQ campaign themes — were well down the list.
Armed with a strong majority, Couillard now needs to tackle public spending and economic growth, Dorval said in a interview.
“This is clearly a tough job,” he said. “The next government will have to be courageous and to take tough decisions in order to cut spending, because we are facing a huge debt and we are facing also increasing demand in public infrastructure.”
The Liberals have pledged to create 250,000 jobs during the next five years, while cutting $1.3 billion in spending. Half of any eventual surplus will be directed to income tax cuts and half to paying down Quebec’s long-term debt.
Former Liberal minister Benoit Pelletier said political stability will allow Couillard’s government to tackle the key economic issues and also encourage investors to have faith in the province.
“One of the messages that I expect Philippe Couillard to send during the next days and next weeks will be that Quebec is again open for business,” said Pelletier, a professor at the University of Ottawa.
Concordia University finance professor Lorne Switzer said the Liberal win might even provide a small boost to both the loonie and Canadian stock prices, although some observers said the prospect of a Liberal victory may already be priced in.
For the Quebec economy, however, the Liberal win is good news, said Norman Levine of Toronto investment management firm Portfolio Management Corp.
“The Parti Quebecois government, they did a really good job of messing up the economy in a pretty short period of time and it cost the economy both jobs and potential jobs,” he said.
“Nothing is going to change overnight, but it’s relief. Had it gone the other way in surprise, it would have been very bad for Quebec-based stocks and probably the Canadian dollar as well.”
— Staff Writer Dan Heath contributed to this report.