Election shooting stuns Quebec
A masked gunman shot dead one person inside the Montreal theatre where the leader of Quebec's separatist Parti Quebecois was addressing supporters in the wake of a narrow election win in the Canadian province, police said today.
The incident was shocking for Canada, where crime rates are relatively low and political violence is unheard of.
The shooting eclipsed the news that the Parti Quebecois had only just defeated the ruling Liberals and would have to be content with a minority government, effectively ruling out another referendum on breaking away from Canada.
Pauline Marois, the first female premier of Quebec, had just told her supporters the province would one day be independent when her bodyguards rushed her from the stage. She later returned to finish her speech.
Montreal police spokesman Danny Richer said a man aged about 50 entered the back of the Metropolis theater at about midnight (4am Irish time) and shot two people. Police said a man in his 40s died on the spot, another was taken to hospital in a critical condition. The suspect also set fire to the back of the building.
RDI television showed pictures of police subduing a large man with a rifle who was dressed in a black cape and a black face mask.
He appeared to shout in French the phrase "The English are waking up". Ms Marois had promised to strengthen laws designed to ensure the dominance of the French language, which has worried some in the minority English-speaking community.
"We are appalled by this violence," said Carl Vallee, a spokesman for federal prime minister Stephen Harper.
La Presse newspaper cited security sources as saying Montreal police had cordoned off a truck they suspected contained weapons. Other Canadian media outlets said the dead man was a technician at the theatre and the badly wounded man was a driver of the PQ campaign bus.
The last political killing in Canada occurred in October 1970, when a radical Quebec nationalist group kidnapped provincial Labor Minister Pierre Laporte and a British diplomat. Laporte was later found strangled.
The PQ won 54 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature, ending nine years of rule by the Liberals.
Previous PQ governments held independence referendums in 1980 and 1995, but both failed. Although Ms Marois is promising another vote when the time is right, that could be years away. The most recent poll shows only 28 per cent of Quebecers back separation from the rest of Canada.
Ms Marois had promised to concentrate first on the economy, in particular tackling the province's large debt, imposing higher tax and royalty rates on mining firms and making foreign takeovers of Quebec companies more difficult.
The results showed the Liberals had won 50 seats, down 14 from the 64 they held at dissolution. Premier Jean Charest, who lost his seat, emphasised that the PQ had only won a minority.
"The result of this election campaign speaks to the fact that the future of Quebec lies within Canada," he said.
Initial results showed the PQ won 32 per cent of the vote, compared to 31 per cent for the Liberals.
Quebec has a population of 7.8 million, compared with 34.5 million for all of Canada.
Nomura Global Economics analyst Charles St-Arnaud said that given the current lack of enthusiasm for independence, even a PQ majority victory would not cause much market unrest.
"We could see a slight depreciation of the Canadian dollar and a widening of spreads, but nothing meaningful. What will matter more for spreads will be the first budget," he said.
Under the Liberals, who want Quebec to remain part of Canada, relations with the federal government in Ottawa have been relatively stable since 2003.
That would change under a PQ government, since Marois has made clear she wants a quick meeting with Harper to demand he give Quebec overall control of immigration policy and unemployment insurance.
Mr Harper has often railed against Quebec separatists, and if he refuses to cooperate with Ms Marois, that could boost support for the idea of independence.
Harper issued a statement congratulating Ms Marois and added: "We do not believe that Quebecers wish to revisit the old constitutional battles of the past." Minority governments in Canada are usually short-lived but Francois Legault, leader of the third-placed Coalition for the Future of Quebec party, indicated he would back Ms Marois if she focused on fighting corruption and improving the financially strapped public healthcare system.
The right-leaning CAQ, on course to win 19 seats with 27 percent of the vote, wants to freeze all talk of a referendum for a decade and focus on the economy.
The Liberals won three successive elections from 2003 to 2008, but became increasingly unpopular amid allegations of corruption in the construction industry that might be linked to the financing of political parties.
Preliminary results of yesterday's election are as follows (figures in brackets show the number of seats at dissolution): PQ 54 (47); Liberals; 50 (64); CAQ 19 (9); Quebec Solidaire 2 (1); Option Nationale 0 (1); Independents 0 (2).