Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard and his wife Suzanne Pilote take the stage after winning the provincial election Monday April 7, 2014 in St-Felicien, Que. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Nineteen months after they were ousted from power, the Liberals in Quebec will form the province's next majority government.
The Liberals took 70 seats in the 125 seat National Assembly, the Parti Québécois 30, the Coalition Avenir Québec 22 and Québec Solidaire three.
The Liberals entered this election campaign as the official opposition, but battled back from a public backlash and integrity questions that saw the province elect its first Parti Québécois minority government in the fall of 2012.
The election itself, called early by the PQ with majority hopes in sight, was a gamble from the start — and it's one the party lost.
Pauline Marois, who lost her own seat in her Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré riding, stepped down as party leader during an emotional concession speech in front of her supporters.
It was a clear message from Quebec voters that economic stability was more important than lingering questions about the party's integrity. And, that the population didn't want the divisive politics that emerged as a result of the PQ's proposed secular values charter.
At his victory rally in his home riding of Roberval, Couillard promised that he would serve as the premier of all Quebecers.
"We should all focus on what brings us together. What unites us makes us stronger. Let us say together with passion, 'Nous sommes tous fier d'être Québécois.'"
This was the party's first election with Couillard at the helm. The former MNA briefly left politics before returning to the party's leadership race in 2013,
Capitalizing on PQ missteps around the referendum and cultural issues, the former neurosurgeon and his team convinced Quebecers that the “vraies affaires,” or real issues, that mattered most to the province were the economy and jobs
The Liberals took an early lead in the popular vote, with about 41 per cent, a gain of 10 percentage points over 2012.
The PQ took about 25 per cent, a drop of seven percentage points from 2012.
The Coalition Avenir Québec captured about 23 per cent, down four percentage points.
Québec Solidaire took about seven per cent of the popular vote, up one point from the last election.
Other party leaders
CAQ Leader François Legault and Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David were both re-elected.
''I respect this democratic choice, but I do hope that you will join our party in growing numbers in the months and the years to come to build a real alternative to the Liberals," Legault told supporters gathered in Repentigny.
"We need you to build a stronger and more prosperous Quebec, which includes all its citizens.''
Quebec's chief electoral office reported a voter turnout of almost 63 per cent as of 8:20 p.m. ET.
More than a million Quebecers cast votes in the advance polls.
Liberals react to Quebec win
Prominent Liberals in the rest of Canada were quick to offer their congratulations to their Quebec colleagues.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau issued a statement that emphasized the result showed Quebecers have priorities above sovereignty.
"Today, Quebecers voted for a better economy, instead of a third referendum, by electing Philippe Couillard as their new premier and giving the Quebec Liberal Party a strong mandate to address the real issues in the province," the statement reads.
Ontario Liberal Leader and Premier Kathleen Wynne offered her congratulations on Twitter.
Star candidates shine
Media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau won his seat in the riding of Saint-Jérôme, taking the seat for the Parti Québécois at the expense of the CAQ.
Two of the Liberal stars — Gaétan Barrette, who swapped from the CAQ to the Liberals this election, and Hélène David, sister of Québec Solidaire spokeswoman Françoise David — also won in their respective ridings.
The PQ's Léo Bureau-Blouin, the youngest MNA in Quebec's history and a star of the student movement, is trailing in his race in the Laval-des-Rapides riding.
Across Quebec, a total of 814 candidates were running for election and 6,012,440 people were registered to vote.
This was the second time Quebecers have gone to the polls in the past 19 months.
Marois triggered the election on March 5 when it became clear that the Liberals and CAQ would not support her minority government's budget.
Marois took a risk calling the election only 18 months into her party's mandate, hoping the PQ could pull out of its position as a minority government and persuade Quebecers to give them a majority mandate.
However, the Liberals put up a significant fight, polling higher than the PQ for the better part of half of the campaign.
The PQ’s campaign focused largely on identity politics. However, when the tactic skewed too close to the sovereignty question, some voters pulled away.
At the centre of its platform was the secular charter legislation, which would bar public-sector workers from wearing overt religious symbols.
The legislation is popular outside urban centres such as Montreal and Quebec City. However, it has been met with fierce opposition by some school boards, health-care institutions and municipalities.
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