OTTAWA, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Pauline Marois and her separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) claimed victory Tuesday night in Quebec's 40th election that gave the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province its first female premier.
Although the PQ appeared to fall short of the 63 seats required to hold a majority in the 125-seat legislature, the pro-separatist party will form a minority government, and its 63-year-old leader, Marois, will become Quebec's 30th and first woman premier since 1867, when Canada became a country.
Marois was rushed off the stage during her late night victory speech at Montreal's Metropolis concert hall after a pistol was fired.
One person was killed, one injured, and a man wearing a bathrobe was arrested in the incident, Montreal police said.
According to local media, by 54 to 50 seats, the PQ toppled incumbent Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government that won three consecutive elections since 2003 and has been staunchly federalist in keeping Quebec within the Canadian fold.
The PQ's victory made a heavy blow to the Liberals, whose nine-year outgoing premier Charest lost to Serge Cardin, former Bloc Quebecois MP and current PQ candidate, in his hometown of Sherbrooke.
Charest's Liberal Party has tried to dodge corruption allegations, stemming from questionable practices in the province's construction industry.
Charest also drew the ire of Quebec's post-secondary students this year when he announced a tuition fee increase, sparking a months-long student uprising that resulted in violent clashes with police on the streets on Montreal and Quebec City.
The PQ's victory could usher a new phase of confrontations in the national unity debate, though Ms. Marois lackluster performance raised questions about her ability to carry its secessionist agenda further.
Marois, first elected to Quebec's National Assembly in 1981, was appointed to the cabinet of then-premier Rene Levesque, who became the province's first PQ premier when the party defeated the Liberals in 1976.
Levesque went on to hold an independence referendum in 1980, and lost. Fifteen years later, another PQ premier, Jacques Parizeau, held another referendum, which also failed.
During the recent 35-day election campaign, Marois said she would ask Quebecers whether or not they wish to remain a part of Canada - but only when they want such a plebiscite.
However, a recent survey showed that support for Quebec's sovereignty, or independence from Canada, was at 28 percent, or about half the levels recorded in the early 1990s.
With a minority government, Marois will be forced to deal with issues related to Quebec's struggling economy, which are top of mind for both the Liberals, now the official opposition, and the newly-formed Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition for Quebec's Future), led by former PQ finance minister Francois Legault, in third place by 19 seats following Tuesday's vote.
Marois has said that she will contact Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shortly after taking office to discuss the transfer of power from Ottawa to Quebec in areas like immigration, language and employment insurance, including a "Quebec citizenship" document that would require immigrants - and anyone running for public office - prove that they can speak French and new language legislation that would force small businesses to work in French.
Rejection in Ottawa of the PQ's demands will just bolster the party's case for Quebec's sovereignty, she said.
But in a terse statement issued late Tuesday night, which congratulated Marois on her electoral victory and recognized Charest for his "leadership" and "dedication" to Quebecers, Harper maintained that Quebecers don't wish to "revisit the old constitutional battles of the past."
Harper said that his government will continue to work with the government of Quebec toward the common goals focused on jobs and economic issues, which "are also the priorities of the people of Quebec."
Quebec, Canada's largest province by area with a population of 7.9 million, has the largest public debt of the country - almost 253 billion Canadian dollars (256 billion U.S. dollars) or 51 percent of its gross domestic product, latest statistics said.