It was an abrupt end to an illustrious political career. Pauline Marois held her final cabinet meeting as Premier of Quebec on Wednesday and is about to leave political life again, this time for good.
Ms. Marois couldn't hold back the tears as she took stock of a political career that spanned more than 30 years including seven as party leader and the short eighteen months as premier.
"It will soon be seven years when I left my garden after a brief retirement because I still wanted to serve Quebec," Ms. Marois said, tears draining from her eyes, her voice thick with emotion as she tried to deliver her final goodbyes as premier.
"I've read this twenty times but I still can't seem to get through it," she said, trying to muster enough composure to deliver her statement. "Can someone please give me a handkerchief?" she asked, shedding more tears.
It was the first time Ms. Marois spoke publicly since the Parti Québécois' devastating April 7 election defeat, finally coming out of hiding to bid her final farewell. Still deeply wounded by her loss and demoralized by the party's lowest level of voter support in over 40 years, Ms. Marois insisted she had no regrets.
Even though during her tenure as party leader, Ms. Marois rejected calls within her own caucus to take bold initiatives to promote Quebec independence, she remained convinced that Quebec will one day take that important step and become a sovereign nation.
"I don't know when, I don't how, but one thing that I do know is that we would be in a better situation if we were independent. I am sure of that. We are different, we are a nation, we have our French language and our culture which is very important. We are able to do it if we decide to choose this freedom," Ms. Marois said.
Just before holding her final cabinet meeting, Ms. Marois finally met with Premier-elect Philippe Couillard after putting off the face-to-face encounter for several days. The meeting was brief – about 20 minutes– and courteous. No doubt the mudslinging between the two leaders that marked the last campaign had left its toll.
Mr. Couillard emerged from the meeting anxious to move on with the business of governing. "It's an important day but there will be many important days ahead as well," the Liberal Leader said.
Ms. Marois urged her Liberal counterpart to adopt a number of measures initiated by government, including the End-of-Life Bill that allows for euthanasia under certain strict conditions. But she specifically called on the Premier-elect to become a guardian of the French language.
"We need protection. No government can avoid the responsibility that comes with being the leader of the only French-language nation of the Americas. We have a responsibility to defend our language and our culture. I have concerns with regards to our language and I mentioned it to Mr. Couillard hoping that his government will act on this front," Ms. Marois said during Wednesday's news conference.
The PQ leader said she was proud of being the first woman to be elected premier of the province and gratified for what her government accomplished during its short term in power. She said she wanted her government to be remembered as the one which fought corruption and collusion by adopting legislation to protect the integrity of public institutions.
Ms. Marois will stay on as PQ leader until the next party meeting on June 7 where she will address rank and file members for the last time.
Meanwhile Mr. Couillard will have his cabinet sworn in next Wednesday and begin preparations for an inaugural speech and the tabling of a budget when he decides to convene the National Assembly later next month.