Quebec Premier Jean Charest delivers his resignation speech.
Credits: STEVENS LEBLANC/JOURNAL DE QUEBEC/AGENCE QMI
MONTREAL - One Quebec premier who fought for a united Canada quit Wednesday to make way for another who wants to break it up but doesn't have the political capital to make it happen.
Jean Charest, former boy wonder in Brian Mulroney's Tory cabinet who later became Canada's longest-serving active premier, held back tears as he announced his family's "unanimous" decision" that he step aside following Tuesday's election loss.
Voters in Charest's Sherbrooke riding pushed him out of office in favour of the PQ's Serge Cardin, ending a 28-year career that saw Charest win eight consecutive terms in his hometown at the federal and provincial levels.
"I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in my public career," Charest told reporters in Quebec City, his voice cracking as he mentioned that his family was a "great source of inspiration."
Adding a national-unity message in English, Charest mentioned that Canadians were "blessed to have been born in this country, to share its wealth, and we're blessed to have each other."
He also swelled with pride as he noted that the Grits defied polls by finishing less than one percentage point back of the Parti Quebecois, handing premier-elect Pauline Marois a minority government that will keep her in check.
Marois failed to mention her separatist aspirations even once during her first speech as premier elect earlier on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters at a Montreal hotel, the 63-year-old admitted that her minority government will have difficulty advancing PQ pet projects such as toughened language laws.
"I will be as far as I can go with the support of the opposition," said Marois, who won 54 of the province's 125 seats.
Though the PQ is outnumbered by the Liberals and the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party, Marois said she wouldn't need their help to cancel the seven-year, $1,800 tuition increase that led to violent student protests.
Marois spoke with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday in a conversation she said was "cordial." But things could soon cool off between the Tories and the PQ, a party that has preferred to take an adversarial stance with Ottawa.