The anti-independence Liberal Party has won a majority in Quebec's legislative elections, in a crushing defeat for the main separatist party that will likely end the chance of a referendum on independence for several years.
Official results on Monday showed the Liberals won or were leading the race in about 71 of the of National Assembly's 125 seats, outstripping the separatist Parti Quebecois on 29, it's lowest since 1989.
Pauline Marois, Quebec's premier and leader of the PQ, called the snap elections last month in the hopes of securing a majority.
Her early campaign focused on her party's "charter of values", which would ban public employees from wearing Muslim headscarves and other overt religious symbols.
But the strategy backfired when one PQ candidate, the multi-millionaire Pierre Karl Peladeau, burst onto the scene with a fist-pumping declaration of his commitment to "make Quebec a country".
Peladeau congratulated the Liberal leader, Philippe Couillard, who will replace Marois as premier.
"We have mixed feelings. The result throughout Quebec is not the one we would have wished,'' said Peladeau, who won his district.
Marois later resigned as leader of the PQ.
Maple leaf returns
Couillard has vowed to return the Canadian flag to the legislature. The PQ has always removed flag when elected.
Quebec has had two referendums on sovereignty. The last such vote, in1995, narrowly rejected independence.
The province, which is 80 percent of French-speaking, already sets its own income tax, has its own immigration policy and has legislation prioritising French over English.
The election result is also likely to bury the PQ's hopes of passing the charter of values, which the Liberals oppose.
John Zucchi, a professor of history at Montreal's McGill University, said before the results were announced that a PQ defeat would deal a significant blow to the separatist movement.
"If it's not the virtual death of the separatist movement, it certainly will put it on the backburner for a significant number of years,'' he said.
Source: AP, AFP