The pro-sovereignty Bloc Québécois matched its best showing ever in a federal election Monday night, but a stronger than expected result from the Liberals in Ontario prevented Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe from playing the role of kingmaker in a minority government.
The Bloc won 54 seats out of 75 possible seats, its strongest electoral showing since the party's first election in 1993.
The Liberals won 21 seats in the province, while the Conservatives and the failed to win any seats at all.
The Liberals speculated that the Bloc will use national Tory leadership as a reason to separate, arguing that a right-wing government doesn't speak for Quebeckers. Traditionally, the Liberals and the Bloc have fought a bitter battle for Quebec voters, with little or no seats left over for the NDP and Tories.
In the days before the election, Mr. Duceppe moved to distance himself from Party Québécois Leader Bernard Landry's comment that a Bloc landslide would pave the way for a referendum on sovereignty in 2009. The Party Québécois holds 45 of the national assembly's 125 seats.
Mr. Duceppe denied that a vote in this election was a vote for sovereignty. Former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau was not invited to play a major role on the campaign trail as he was in 1997 and 2000.
After the Bloc's results night rolled in Monday night, an ebullient Mr. Duceppe said, "This is a beautiful victory."
He added, "I would like to congratulate all the candidates, men and women, people of convictions who fought this fight with us . . . Because this is democracy. This is democracy in action. . . . There has been a very clear message that was said tonight. The Bloc is the only team with whom Quebeckers, men and women, have confidence to defend their own interests in Ottawa."
He added, "It is the fourth federal election, consecutive, where the Bloc is winning a majority in Quebec, and this is significant."
But Mr. Duceppe did not comment on whether sovereignty would figure into Quebec's future.
Pundits speculated that the Bloc was worried their federalist supporters would be scared off they had reason to believe their support would lead to another referendum.
Bloc support has been on the decline since its highest number of seats, 54, in 1993.
In 1997, the Bloc won 44 of Quebec's 75 seats and in 2000, the Bloc won 38 seats, barely a majority of available seats, compared with 35 Liberal seats and one Conservative. At dissolution, the Liberals had the majority of seats with 37, compared to the Bloc's 33, four independent, and one vacant spot.
The Bloc Québécois was founded by Lucien Bouchard in 1990 after some Tories left the party to work for an independent Quebec, following the demise of the Meech Lake constitutional accord. Gilles Duceppe became the party's third leader in March 1997 with Mr. Bouchard's backing, who quit in 1996.