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Political career a mixed legacy for Marois

Political career a mixed legacy for MaroisParti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL - She grew from humble roots to become Quebec's first woman premier. But for Pauline Marois, holding on to that job proved too great a challenge.

Once known as the "minister of everything" for holding some of government's most powerful positions, Marois saw her toughness tested in an election campaign that seemed to veer out of her control shortly after it began.

On Monday, it ended in disaster.

Marois stepped down as Parti Quebecois leader in the wake of a drubbing that handed the Liberals a solid majority mandate and delivered Marois's own seat in the riding of Charlevoix-Cote-de-Beaupre to Liberal rival Caroline Simard.

When the dust had settled, the Liberals had 70 seats and 41.4 per cent of the vote, compared with the PQ's 30 seats and 25.4 per cent. The third-place Coalition for Quebec's Future finished the night at 22 seats and 23.1 per cent of the vote; Quebec solidaire claimed three seats.

Mostly maintaining an unflappability that has been credited to long walks and reading Zen philosophy, Marois battled her rivals as a bad cold hampered her voice late in the campaign.

Marois was dubbed "The Concrete Lady" for surviving a party revolt that threatened her leadership in 2011. She also earned kudos for calming bewildered supporters after a gunman tried to storm the PQ election victory rally in 2012.

Before that, her strength was reflected in campaigning while pregnant for her first election in 1981 and for her first try at the PQ leadership in 1985.

Even as her re-election campaign went off the rails, Marois remained calm.

"I'm very satisfied with the game plan we have put forth," Marois said before the first televised debate. "What concerns me, on the other hand, is returning to the old ways under the Liberals.

"Do you want to go back to what we knew with Mr. Charest — the same vision, the same team, the same perspective, the same ethical problems?"

The mother of four children was acclaimed PQ leader in 2007 after two unsuccessful tries, taking over the party after one of its worst electoral defeats ever.

She instilled a rigorous discipline in the fractious party as she tried to create the winning conditions for a sovereignty referendum.

Governing the province wasn't any easier.

Marois acknowledged that her minority government was too ambitious in its first few months as it stumbled with ill-considered moves such as trying to retroactively increase taxes on wealthier Quebecers.

One of the other criticisms against Marois, the daughter of a mechanic father and teacher mother, was that she was never clear on when she would call another referendum.

Known for being aloof, Marois's image softened somewhat when she became premier and was praised for her compassion during the Lac-Megantic train disaster in 2013 that left 47 dead.

The 65-year-old is considered to have bourgeois tastes and is still remembered by some for the fabled silent-flush commode — dubbed the "stealth toilet" by critics — that was installed in her ministerial office during $800,000 in renovations during the 1990s.

Her political legacy remains mixed and so far lies mainly in her achievements in the dozen-plus cabinet jobs she held, including finance and health, rather than as a premier who saw the jobless rate climb during her 18-month tenure.

As a cabinet minister, Marois was the architect of Quebec's inexpensive daycare system. She also helped to craft some of the most progressive youth protection legislation in North America.

She is still also remembered for presiding over a weakened and still problematic health-care system after she was named health minister to reform it following deep budget cuts.

In her run for premier and in her time in office, she was also criticized for embracing divisive identity politics that sought to enforce secularism in the public sector by banning religious garb such as hijabs, kippas and turbans.

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