Quebec voters ousted the ruling Parti Quebecois today, handing the opposition Liberal Party a landslide victory.
Although the Liberals won 98 seats in the 122-member provincial assembly, their party leader, Robert Bourassa, lost in his own election district.
A somber Bourassa, who had worked carefully to rebuild the party and plot a political comeback after being driven from the provincial premiership in 1976 by the Parti Quebecois, indicated that he probably would run again in a by-election in two to three months. To do that, he would have to persuade a friendly assembly member from a safe district to resign.
Despite the embarrassing defeat, Bourassa told interviewers that he probably would work as premier anyway, selecting a Cabinet and beginning work on a new provincial budget after the new assembly is sworn in next week. However, it will be necessary for him to designate an acting premier in the interim to handle constitutional duties.
All the opinion polls prior to the election had indicated that voters were dissatisfied with the failure of the Parti Quebecois to turn around Quebec's ailing economy and were impressed with the team of new faces assembled by Bourassa.
But the polls also indicated that voters still harbored mistrust of Bourassa, who had been vilified as the most hated man in Quebec when he was ousted from power nine years ago.
The centerpiece of the Liberal campaign platform was a proposal by Bourassa to create new jobs and improve the economy by vastly expanding the province-owned hydroelectric company and selling surplus electricity to the United States.
The Liberal program was received enthuastically by voters between the ages of 18 and 25, whom Bourassa promised jobs and a threefold increase in jobless benefits. Liberals also benefited from widespread dissatisfaction among civil servants, who were angry with the Parti Quebecois for rolling back salary increases.
The Liberal Party was the overwhelming favorite of the English-speaking minority, although Bourassa acknowledged over the weekend that a number of them also mistrusted him.
Bourassa had been kicked out of power in 1976, when the then-fledgling Parti Quebecois, advocating formal separation of largely French-speaking Quebec from the rest of Canada, rode a tide of nationalist sentiment into office.
That upset victory of the nationalist party, which had been formed only eight years earlier, surprised even its founder and then-leader, Rene Levesque.
The Levesque government enacted a series of measures to ensure the primacy of the French language in the province and to elevate the social status of French Canadians, who had been mostly relegated to low-paying jobs.
French Canadians were enthusiastic supporters of these measures, which mandated that French be the language of the workplace and the only language on public signs, but in a 1980 referendum they rejected the key plank of the party's platform, that Quebec negotiate an agreement with Ottawa for "sovereignty-association" with the rest of Canada.
Disenchantment with the party set in after a 1981 recession was exacerbated by the departure of scores of English-speaking corporations and investors.
Levesque had attempted to reverse their fortunes by switching the emphasis from separatism to the economy, but he failed to regain voter support and angered hard-line separatists, many of whom left his Cabinet and the party.
After Levesque stepped down, the Parti Quebecois selected Pierre Marc Johnson as its leader. After being sworn in as premier in October, Johnson, faced with a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly, was forced to call an election.
In a surprisingly close race, Johnson barely won in his own district. His brother, running in another district on the Liberal ticket was elected easily and is expected to be a minister in Bourassa's Cabinet.