MONTREAL — A gunman was arrested after shooting two people, one of them fatally, at the victory speech of Quebec’s Pauline Marois, whose separatist party is projected to win polls in the Canadian province.
Another person was seriously wounded in the incident late Tuesday, as Marois was hustled offstage by bodyguards. She later returned to the podium, visibly shaken but unharmed, and quickly concluded her remarks.
The shooting came as media projections showed Marois’s Parti Quebecois ousting Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals from power, which would make Marois, 63, the French-speaking Canadian province’s first female prime minister.
The alleged gunman was quickly arrested after firing a rifle into the crowded concert hall in the provincial capital Montreal, police said. The man, in his 50s, is also believed to have started a fire at the venue.
“This is a homicide investigation. The death was confirmed at the scene. The motive is unknown at this time,” the Montreal police said on Twitter.
Caught on camera during the arrest, the alleged gunman shouted: “The English are waking up!” apparently referring to fears of Francophone domination of the English-speaking minority in an independent Quebec.
Local media reported that he also shouted: “It’s gonna be fucking payback!”
The Parti Quebecois favors independence from mostly English-speaking Canada, but is not expected to immediately pursue secession.
Shortly before the shooting, however, Marois had said that “the future of Quebec is to be a sovereign country.”
The party’s victory came after allegations of corruption and months of nightly student protests over a planned tuition hike, with polls showing widespread dissatisfaction with nine years of Liberal rule.
Several polling stations were still reporting, but it appeared that Marois’s party will lead a minority government, having secured around 32 percent of the vote, only narrowly ahead of the Liberals.
But Charest’s career appeared to be in ruins after he was beaten in his hometown of Sherbrooke by PQ candidate Serge Cardin, who secured 42.41 percent of votes to the incumbent’s 34.7 percent.
Despite a strong record on the economy and a solid campaign, Charest — only the second Quebec leader since the 1950s to have served three terms — failed to excite voters. His tactics had included fanning fears over independence.
Turnout was strong, with nearly six million voters casting ballots for 125 lawmakers, but 40 races were still too close to call late Tuesday.
The middle ground upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), which surged into second place in pre-election public opinion polls with a message of “change” and an end to the decades-old feud between separatists and federalists, finished third on election night.
Outside polling stations earlier, voters going to cast their ballots said they were eager for a new government but appeared split on secession.
A woman in her 40s who came with a placard that read “vote with your heart” said she dreamed of an independent Quebec, “a small country that is easier to govern” and more adept at managing its vast natural resources.
Behind her, Therese Boily, a grandmother who immigrated from France, was skeptical. “Independence? I’m not really for that. Usually, things change for the worse,” she told AFP.
Charest may have triggered this election to try to put down the student unrest and avoid the scrutiny of a commission of inquiry into accusations of graft and kickbacks in the awarding of government construction contracts.
But his main call to arms was to stop the separatists’ rise.
Quebec twice rejected independence in 1980 and 1995, but federalists only narrowly won the last referendum.
Marois, however, has said she will only hold a third referendum on independence if a win is assured, which is unlikely, given that barely one in three Quebecers currently support secession.
She also faces opposition to a referendum from the Liberals and CAQ, which hold the balance of power in the National Assembly.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Marois prior to the shooting, but urged Quebecers not to “revisit the old constitutional battles of the past.”
“I would also like to thank outgoing premier Jean Charest for his leadership and for his dedication to the people of Quebec,” Harper added.
Photo: AFP, Rogerio Barbosa.