MONTREAL — Quebecers charted a new course for their province Monday by giving the seven-year-old Coalition Avenir Quebec a majority mandate in an election result that could create waves beyond its borders.

Quebec, Canada’s second most-populous province, has joined the even bigger province of Ontario in voting for change following about 15 years of Liberal governments. There’s also more potential for conflict between Quebec and the federal Liberals.

On its path to victory Monday, the right-leaning Coalition shattered nearly a half-century of two-party political rule in Quebec with a majority government that will redraw the province’s electoral map.

The party was elected in 74 of the province’s 125 ridings, compared with 32 for the incumbent Liberals.

One of the major surprises of the night was the near-disintegration of the Parti Quebecois, which earned just 17 per cent of the popular vote — its worst ever electoral performance — and won just nine seats.

Coalition Leader Francois Legault guided his troops to victory after pitching himself as the candidate for change.

“Today, Quebecers chose hope, hope for a government that will bring positive change,” he told supporters in his victory speech.

“Tonight, we will celebrate the victory, then we will rest a few hours. But starting tomorrow (Tuesday) we will roll up our sleeves and we will work to do more, to do better for all Quebecers.”

Many predicted the tightly fought campaign would shake up the political landscape.

It was more like an earthquake.

The win delivered something Quebec hadn’t seen in 48 years — a provincial government headed by a party other than the Liberals or the PQ.

In terms of popular support, the Coalition had more than 37 per cent, compared with about 25 per cent for the Liberals.

Legault’s party left the Liberals in second place, Quebec solidaire in a distant third and the stunned PQ reeling in fourth.

With support for independence sliding, the PQ is now facing an existential crisis. The party has steadily watched its backing slip after spending about 20 of the last 48 years in office.

To be considered an official party, the PQ needed either 20 per cent of the popular vote on Monday or 12 seats. It got neither.

PQ Leader Jean-Francois Lisee suffered a double blow by also losing his Montreal riding. It prompted him to announce his resignation in his post-election speech.  

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard salvaged some pride by being elected in his own riding. In his concession speech, he said he would take a few days to ponder his political future.

“I wish his government all the success that Quebec deserves — despite our significant differences of opinion, we are all Quebecers,” he said after congratulating Legault on his victory.

“We must stay united — we are stronger united.”

Couillard had touted his government’s balanced budgets as well as the province’s falling unemployment rate and strong economic performance. But early in his mandate he faced criticism for cutting health and education budgets.

The departure of Couillard, a staunch federalist, could have implications for Canada. He had smooth relations with Ottawa during his four years in power.

It’s unclear what Legault’s win will mean for Quebec’s relationship with the Trudeau government.

But there have already been signs of potential friction between Legault, a former sovereigntist and PQ cabinet minister, and the federal government.

Last week, a recording of Legault’s wife, Isabelle Brais, captured her telling a party meeting last month that while Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was “brilliant,” his son is not.

She described the younger Trudeau as incompetent and suggested a Coalition government could have strained ties with his federal government. Brais later apologized. 

Legault declined to say whether he endorsed his wife’s comments about the prime minister, saying she’s “an independent woman who has her opinions, who is spontaneous, who apologized.”

Trudeau issued a statement Monday to offer his “sincere congratulations” to Legault on the win.

“I look forward to working with Premier Legault to make Quebec, a province we are all proud of, an even better place to live,” said Trudeau, who represents a Montreal riding. 

Looking ahead, the Coalition and Trudeau’s Liberals could also find themselves at odds over Legault’s pledges on immigration.

He grabbed national headlines during the campaign when he proposed lowering Quebec’s annual immigration levels by 20 per cent. Legault also said he wanted to force newcomers to pass French and values tests within three years of their arrival — or face removal from the province.

Responsibility, however, for such expulsions would fall to the federal government.

In his victory speech, Legault, 61, appeared to address the issue of immigration:

“I intend to govern for all Quebecers — all Quebecers,” he said.

Legault’s win follows Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s majority victory in June. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives defeated the Ontario Liberals to end their run of 15 years in power.

In Quebec, the Coalition win put an end to nearly 15 years of continuous Liberal rule, expect for a 19-month break when the PQ had a minority mandate between 2012 and 2014.

The emergence of Legault’s party, which won just 22 seats in 2014 to finish third, came in large part at the expense of the PQ. Legault created the Coalition party in 2011 after quitting the PQ two years earlier.

The PQ’s raison d’etre — Quebec sovereignty — has lost its lustre with voters and, for the first time in decades, talk of a referendum on independence was not a ballot-box issue.

Faced with the shift in public sentiment, Lisee entered the race vowing not to hold a referendum on sovereignty in his first mandate as premier.

“We absorbed a shock tonight, but we stand up straight and strong because Quebec still needs the Parti Quebecois,” Lisee said after the vote.

“For as long as there are battles to fight for justice, equality, environment, secularism, French — Quebec will need the Parti Quebecois. For as long as Quebec isn’t a country, Quebec will need the Parti Quebecois.”

The PQ finished one seat behind Quebec solidaire, which expanded its reach beyond its urban roots of central Montreal.

“Today, our movement is bigger, stronger, more resolute than ever,” said Masse.

“Quebec solidaire is not the party of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (a hipster Montreal neighbourhood). Quebec solidaire is the party of the people who want things to change for real.”

The Liberals had 68 seats at the legislature’s dissolution, while the PQ had 28, the Coalition 21 and Quebec solidaire three. There were five Independents.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press