The tragic shooting Tuesday night at the Quebec election victory celebration of the Parti Quebecois has shocked many Canadians, and understandably so. Two people were shot in this senseless act, one fatally. Who would have imagined that elections in this country, however heated or emotional they can become, would be marred by such aggression?
It's unclear what prompted the shooting, but according to The Canadian Press, the gunman, as he was taken away by guards, shouted in French: "The English are waking up."
What a chilling and disturbing sentiment. Details about the incident are still unfolding, but it's appropriate that all parties have responded quickly with messages of condolences and statements denouncing such violence.
It seems everyone had their share of victories and disappointments in Tuesday's vote. Obviously for Pauline Marois and her PQ team, the victory was in winning a mandate to govern after nine years in opposition. But against the backdrop of opinion polls that suggested a massive win for her, the 54-seat minority victory can't be what she was expecting.
For outgoing Liberal leader and premier Jean Charest, arguably one of the country's most successful politicians, the loss of his seat in Sherbrooke had to be devastating. Nevertheless, with the polls warning of political annihilation for the party, the fact his party won 50 ridings and will form the official Opposition has to be viewed as a victory.
Francois Legault, leader of the newly formed Coalition party, must also be disappointed at taking only 19 seats, but his victory is that his party did find a niche in the Quebec political landscape, and established a basis upon which he can build. As for the Quebec solidaire, its two seats may enjoy some prominence in the National Assembly where Marois will need all the support she can get.
Marois faces challenges her PQ predecessors did not. Leading a minority government, she'll have to work co-operatively with the other parties if she wants to govern effectively.
But it's outside Quebec where the real uncertainty lies. Given the relatively low interest in sovereigntist sentiments in her province at the moment, Marois isn't likely to launch any aggressive initiatives toward that goal. But we can expect her to generate support for it wherever and whenever she can.
That's where it could get interesting. We have a Quebec premier whose sovereignty agenda could well be advanced every time she gets a 'no' from Ottawa. And in Ottawa, we have a prime minister who is widely perceived as having little difficulty saying 'no' to anyone. As well, unlike previous prime ministers, Stephen Harper doesn't have to work to maintain any support in Quebec; his base is elsewhere.
Will Marois' strategy be to capitalize on these factors and try to foster an appetite for sovereignty? Will Prime Minister Harper adjust his own agenda to be more accommodating?
The minority status of Marois' government hardly rocks the nation's political foundation. But the PQ victory is a reminder to all Canadians that the unity struggle, which has plagued this country throughout its history, never really goes away. Surfacing again at this time - in the midst of the country's current economic challenges - it makes the current climate of federal-provincial relations that much more complex.