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Quebec: 'Lady of concrete' becomes first female premier (+video)

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois' election ends the rule of the Liberals who had been in power in Canada's French-speaking province for almost a decade. Marois promises to focus on Quebec's economy.

By David LjunggrenReuters / September 4, 2012

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois casts her ballot in Beaupre, Quebec, Canada, on Tuesday.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot

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Quebec separatist leader Pauline Marois, a veteran politician dubbed the "Lady of concrete" for her strong will, made history on Tuesday when she became the first female premier of the French-speaking Canadian province.

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Voters in Quebec went to the polls Tuesday in provincial elections expected to bring separatists to power, amid rising frustration with the current leadership and months of student protests over a planned tuition hike.

Preliminary results show her opposition Parti Quebecois (PQ) had won at least a minority government after defeating the ruling Liberals, who had been in power for more than nine years.

Such success for Marois seemed highly unlikely in June 2011, when half a dozen leading PQ legislators quit in protest, complaining she would never be able to lead Quebec to independence from Canada.

But Marois, 63, who first won a seat for the PQ in 1981 and served in more than a dozen cabinet posts, stared down the rebels. Now she is premier and must lead the debt-laden province while ensuring she maintains the support of PQ hardliners who want an independence referendum as soon as possible.

"Few people have as good a knowledge of how the Quebec government works as Pauline Marois. ... She is actually quite good at making bureaucrats do what they're supposed to do," said University of Montreal politics professor Pierre Martin.

"One can expect a government that will run relatively efficiently," he told Reuters.

Marois is promising to focus on the economy and says a PQ government will be a good manager of the public finances.

"There will be a lot of changes, but done in an orderly fashion," she told supporters on Monday.

After winning her seat in 1981, Marois went straight into the cabinet, less than two weeks after giving birth to her third child. Her many cabinet posts have included a stint as finance minister.

In 1998, as education minister, she set up a full-time subsidized daycare program for children aged five to 12, one of her signature achievements.

Failed Referendums 

Marois ran for the leadership in 1985 and lost. A second leadership campaign ended in failure in 2005 and she briefly quit politics before returning and finally winning control of the party two years later.

The PQ held failed independence referendums in 1980 and 1995 and Marois, wary of polls consistently showing less than half of Quebecers wanted to break away from Canada, declines to say when a government led by her might hold another vote.

Marois is not an enormously charismatic leader, and even some PQ supporters doubt she would be able to mount a successful pro-independence campaign.

"It is clear the current PQ will not lead us to sovereignty. Another PQ, perhaps, but not the one we have now. It is not unifying or inspiring enough," former PQ cabinet minister and Marois ally Joseph Facal wrote in the Journal de Montreal on Monday.

Marois' refusal to commit to a timeline for a referendum infuriated the influential group of hardliners who have made every PQ leader's life difficult since the party first came to power in 1976.

Marois received a 93 percent vote of confidence at a party congress in April 2011, but half a dozen legislators resigned in frustration in June.

"I do not think Mrs Marois is the woman people want to follow when it comes to creating a country," said rebel legislator Jean-Martin Aussant at the time.

Despite polls showing she and the PQ were increasingly unpopular, Marois refused to quit, prompting the media to dub her the "Lady of Concrete".

Pauline Marois was born on March 29, 1949. She is married with four children.

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