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Legault says he's not going to give up

Legault says he's not going to give up Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL - Francois Legault, the leader of the Coalition party, had wanted to promote a third way in Quebec politics that differed from those of the provincial Liberals and Parti Quebecois.

Entering the 2014 election in a distant third place, however, the former Air Transat chief executive admitted he was in the battle of his political life.

The challenge didn't deter him.

"I have been through difficult periods before," Legault said during the campaign.

"My father died when I was 26 years old. At Air Transat, I wondered if we were going to go bankrupt or if we would be able to pay the employees. I am able to take it.

"I will fight until the end to elect the most members to the legislature. I am a realist."

In 2012, the Coalition had been seen as a viable alternative with pretensions of forming a government. Instead, it elected just 19 members to the 125-seat legislature.

On Monday, the results were only slightly less dismal: with most polls reporting, the Coalition ended up with just 22 seats, compared with 70 for the Liberals and 29 for the PQ. The Coalition's share of the popular vote was just 23.1 per cent, compared with 41.5 per cent for the Liberals and 25.4 per cent for the PQ.

The millionaire Legault and businessman Charles Sirois formed the Coalition in 2011 with the idea of bringing together like-minded people, regardless of their views on Quebec nationalism, to focus on the economy and tighter controls on government spending.

It wasn't Legault's first foray into politics, having left a successful business career to run successfully for the PQ in 1998.

He subsequently served as minister in the portfolios of education, industry and commerce, and health and social services in the governments of Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry.

A native of Ste-Anne-de-Belleville near Montreal, Legault had been an administrator for grocery giant Provigo, finance director for Nationair and an auditor for Ernst & Young.

His most notable business venture was the co-founding of Air Transat in 1986, serving as its chief executive until 1997.

While in government, Legault became mired in a minor controversy when he said he would support Pauline Marois in the race to succeed Bouchard when he quit the PQ leadership.

He later said he would support Landry, who once described Legault as one of the most ardent sovereigntists on his team.

Legault survived the 2003 election which saw Landry's government defeated by Jean Charest's Liberals. He won re-election in 2007 and 2008 and announced he was quitting politics in 2009 although he was considered a serious contender to be PQ leader.

In 2010, Legault assembled a prominent group of intellectuals, politicians and business people to discuss details of what would eventually become the Coalition.

His initial decision to brand it as a movement instead of a party cost him some support, as did his inching away from a right-wing agenda to more bureaucratic measures to revive the province's finances, such as abolishing school boards.

The party flagged under increased scrutiny in the 2012 election and amid gaffes by Legault, such as musing that Quebecers should show the diligence of Asian children in their endeavours.

Critics also suggested the Coalition waffled on issues and even Legault and other high-profile members acknowledged it struggled to get its message out between elections.

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