QUEBEC – Pauline Marois will become the 30th premier of Quebec today — and the very first woman to hold the job in that province.
She will become the fifth current female premier of a Canadian province or territory. Marois and her cabinet will be sworn in at 4 o’clock this afternoon in Quebec City.
The daughter of a garage mechanic and a teacher, Marois has held a number of powerful political roles in a 30-year career that has seen her run most of the largest provincial ministries.
In opposition, she fended off challenges to her leadership and criticism that her and her husband’s personal wealth would never win over the electorate.
When her election win finally arrived, it was marred by tragedy. Marois had to be whisked off the stage during her victory speech when a gunman approached the assembly hall and shot two people, killing a stage technician.
Marois was held to a minority in the Sept. 4 vote; her margin of victory was less than one percentage point in the popular vote and four seats in the legislature.
That minority status makes it all but impossible for her Parti Quebecois government to hold an independence referendum.
However, with a plurality of seats in the legislature, control of ministries, and with her main Liberal opponent in the throes of a leadership race, Marois could seek to advance other parts of her agenda.
She has already called tougher language laws a central priority, while adding that she will seek consensus with opposition parties where possible.
Marois, 63, is also expected to battle Ottawa for more provincial powers, on files ranging from the federal gun registry to social and possibly even international policy.
The Harper Conservatives in Ottawa, however, have worked to keep her expectations low.
The federal government has repeatedly pointed to the narrow vote result as evidence that Quebecers don’t want to squabble about constitutional issues and would rather focus on the economy.
One federal minister, Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis, even held a news conference last week where he accused the PQ of hurting the economy by abandoning the controversial asbestos industry.
He appears poised to battle the PQ again if the new government makes good on its promise to push for a transfer of control over Quebec’s share of the Employment Insurance program. The program used to be run by individual provinces, decades ago.
But Paradis said yesterday that EI is a federal responsibility and will remain that way.
“We have no mandate to dismantle the federation so we’re not going to start improvising on all sorts of fronts,” Paradis said yesterday in Ottawa.
He said the feds could work with Quebec to hammer out some administrative deals, perhaps, on managing EI payments — “but not at the risk of dismantling the federation,” Paradis added.