Quebec Liberal majority lets Ottawa avoid sovereignty debate

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard speaks to supporters in his victory speech, Monday, April 7, 2014 in St-Felicien, Que. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Watch above: Monday’s election results changed the political landscape of Quebec and left the Parti Quebecois, and all it stands for, struggling to survive. Mike Armstrong reports.

OTTAWA – It was the election no one in Ottawa wanted to talk about.

And after Monday night’s drubbing of the Parti Quebecois by the provincial Liberals, federal politicians won’t have to.

With Philippe Couillard’s Liberals forming a majority government in Quebec, party leaders – Prime Minister Stephen Harper especially – dodge a topic they sought to avoid from the outset.

What would happen if Pauline Marois’ PQ formed a majority government?

“We will work with the government that Quebecers elect,” was the common Conservative refrain.

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The reason for the vagueness? So as not to make things worse.

“Quebecers are very jealous about having control over their own affairs and the federal parties recognize that saying anything would only give the Parti Quebecois – would strengthen them,” said Nelson Wiseman, an associate professor of Canadian government at the University of Toronto.

“They would claim that this was interference in the internal affairs of Quebec.”

Harper reportedly did discuss the possibility of a PQ majority with Ottawa’s two main opposition leaders, as well as provincial premiers – in private.

The thinking was not to add fuel to the separatist fire.

Complete coverage of the 2014 Quebec provincial election

In a statement following the results, Harper congratulated Couillard.

“Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation,” he said.

An election that was supposed to be based on the controversial Charter of Values quickly morphed into a question of sovereignty. That was a debate even Quebecers clearly did not want to have.

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It all started – and ended – with a fist pump.

“The Charter was not an issue during this campaign. The defining moment was when Pierre Karl Peladeau put his fist up in the air and said I [joined] this to create a country for Quebec. And I think it went downhill from that point onwards,” Quebec Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Monday night.

“There’s no question that if the Parti Quebecois had won, Madame Marois would have come forward with a very strong mandate.”

In a statement, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said Quebecers voted for a better economy, instead of a third referendum.

“I had the utmost confidence that Quebec voters would reject the negative, divisive politics of Mme. Marois’ proposed plan. I am proud that my fellow Quebecers have chosen unity and acceptance as we move forward together,” he said.

WATCH: Justin Trudeau says the Liberal victory shows Quebec has “pushed away the politics of division”

The NDP didn’t take sides during the election. While the Liberals supported their provincial cousins, they weren’t actively campaigning in the province.

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The NDP, arguably, had the most to lose come 2015, with 57 MPs out of 75 seats in the province.

But there is also no provincial arm, and Mulcair revealed this weekend that he voted for Liberal Geoffrey Kelly, who Mulcair claimed has deep NDP roots.

“The NDP has taken note of the people’s desire to end the old quarrels, and the new Premier can count on us to promote Quebec’s interests in Ottawa, as part of our effort to build a more just and prosperous Canada for all,” Mulcair said in a statement.

But Linda Cardinal, professor in Canadian and Quebec politics at the University of Ottawa, said it was the provincial Liberals that turned the election into a referendum campaign.

And she noted that while the Liberals and PQ differed on the Charter of Values, “they’re not that different in terms of policy orientation.”

She also worried that the Liberals made the election about “real issues,” and yet little was discussed outside of the possibility of a separation. “A government needs to have a position on everything,” she said.

For Wiseman, the Liberal majority means, at least for now, that Quebecers want to stay united with the rest of Canada.

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And no one can be happier about that than the federal politicians.

“If the perception comes across in Quebec that English Canada is unnecessarily and gratuitously slapping Quebec and Quebecers in the face, then we will have a growing appetite, a growing sentiment, for a referendum and for separatism,” he said.

“But that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.”

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