By SAMER MUSCATI
Globe and Mail Update
The Liberal Party — buoyed by a collapse in Tory support and low voter turnout — pulled out a suprise victory in Quebec, snaring its highest share of the popular vote in the province in 20 years.
The Bloc Québécois, despite a near-flawless campaign in what was seen as a two-party race in the province, could not stop the Liberal domination of Central and Eastern Canada. The Bloc suffered its worst result in its third federal election. As of Tuesday morning, it was poised to win 37 ridings out of 75 in the province, falling far short of the 50 it hoped to win. The Bloc won 44 seats in 1997 and 54 in 1993. The Liberals also were close to grabbing 37 seats with the remaining riding favoured to a Tory candidate.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe was re-elected in his Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, while Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and popular Finance Minister Paul Martin won their seats. Liberal cabinet ministers Pierre Pettigrew, Alfonso Gagliano and Stephane Dion were all re-elected. In total, the Liberals were poised to elect 37 MPs, compared with 26 in 1997.
Despite the Bloc's setback, Mr. Duceppe, speaking after the election, appeared unfazed by his party's poor showing.
"I said throughout the campaign ... that the struggle would be close," he said in French.
"But in my most profound being I know Quebec will one day be a country — our country."
André Bachand, the only Conservative incumbent MP, was poised to keep his seat, leading the Bloc with a very slim margin on Tuesday morning. A loss by Mr. Bachand would wipe out the Tories from the political landscape in the province.
The Bloc suffered some major losses, including its seat in Beauharnois-Salaberry, where prominent incumbent MP Daniel Turp lost.
The Liberals seized 43.6 per cent of the popular vote, the Bloc had 40.5, the Canadian Alliance, 6.3. The Conservatives plummeted to 5.6 per cent from 22 per cent in 1997 under leader Jean Charest.
The Bloc had expected to perform better than in the 1997 election, which saw the Bloc lose seats after a faltering campaign. This time around, the party campaigned relentlessly and effectively in the hopes of shaking voter apathy, in order to boost their chances. Mr. Duceppe wrapped up the campaign with a 36-hour blitz of 15 ridings in eight key regions.
The Liberals, who won 26 seats in 1997, held on to key ridings. Led by Mr. Chrétien, an unpopular figure in the province, the Liberals could not compete with the Bloc's intense campaign style, but still managed to garner more votes than expected. Outside the province, Mr. Chrétien warned voters during the last days of the campaign that a strong Liberal majority would be the only way to keep the Bloc at bay.
The Bloc was founded 10 years ago by Lucien Bouchard, who is now Quebec Premier, after disgruntled Tories left their party to work for an independent Quebec.