Quebec separatists' win marred by shooting

Newly elected premier Pauline Marois' victory celebrations are cut short when a gunman fires into crowd, leaving one dead and another wounded

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 3:51am


One person was killed and another seriously wounded when a gunman tried to storm the victory celebrations of Quebec's newly elected premier, Pauline Marois, whose separatist party is projected to win polls in the French-speaking province.

Marois of the Parti Quebecois was near the end of her victory speech in a Montreal club on Tuesday night when a shot could be heard and she was hustled offstage by bodyguards. She later returned to the podium, visibly shaken but unharmed, and quickly concluded her remarks.

Although it was unclear whether the attack was an assassination attempt against Marois, the gunman appeared to have a political motivation.

Caught on camera during the arrest, the man wearing a ski mask and bathrobe shouted in accented French: "The English are waking up!" indicating that the shooting may have been motivated by fears among the province's English-speaking minority of independence from Canada.

Local media reported that he also shouted: "It's gonna be f****ng payback!"

The alleged gunman was quickly arrested after firing into the crowded concert hall as he tried to force his way through a rear door, police said. He is also believed to have hurled a molotov cocktail at the entrance, setting fire to part of the building.

Local media reported that the rifle and a handgun had been seized.

The Parti Quebecois favours independence from mostly English-speaking Canada, but is not expected to immediately pursue secession. Shortly before the shooting, however, Marois had said that "the future of Quebec is to be a sovereign country".

Media projections showed Marois' Parti Quebecois ousting Premier Jean Charest from his seat and his Liberal party from power, which would make Marois, 63, the province's first woman prime minister.

The party's victory came after allegations of corruption and months of nightly student protests over a planned tuition fee increase, with polls showing widespread dissatisfaction with nine years of Liberal rule.

Several polling stations were still reporting, but it appeared that Marois' party will lead a minority government, having secured around 32 per cent of the vote, only narrowly ahead of the Liberals.

But regional premier Charest's career appeared to be in ruins after being beaten in his hometown of Sherbrooke by the PQ candidate, with victor Serge Cardin securing 42.41 per cent of votes versus the incumbent's 34.7 per cent.

Despite a strong record on the economy and a solid campaign, Charest - only the second Quebec leader since the 1950s to have served three terms - failed to win over voters. His tactics had included fanning fears over independence.

Turnout was strong, with nearly six million voters casting ballots for 125 lawmakers, but 40 races were still too close to call late on Tuesday.

The electorate appeared to side with the protesting students. Leo Bureau-Blouin was among the fresh faces elected under the PQ banner, beating a Liberal minister to become, at 20, the youngest-ever member of Quebec's National Assembly.

Outside polling stations earlier, voters going to cast their ballots said they were eager for a new government but appeared split on secession.

A woman in her 40s with a placard that read "vote with your heart" said she dreamed of an independent Quebec, "a small country that is easier to govern" and more adept at managing its vast natural resources.

Behind her, Therese Boily, a grandmother who immigrated from France, was sceptical. "Independence? I'm not really for that. Usually, it means things change for the worse," she said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Marois prior to the shooting, but urged Quebecers not to "revisit old constitutional battles of the past". Quebec twice rejected independence in 1980 and 1995, but federalists only narrowly won the last referendum.

Marois, has said she will only hold a third referendum on independence if a win is assured, which is unlikely, given that barely one in three Quebecers currently support secession.