Others have already weighed in on Quebec's election results. But let's note that for all the drama of an election where it was an open question whether voters could stomach any of the three main contenders, the outcome may set the stage for sweeping changes in the fairly near future.
I've already pointed out an apparent opening for a Quebec NDP to win over a large number of voters. And last night's results could hardly have been better designed for the NDP join the mix in the next election cycle - even if they figure to produce some negative outcomes in the short term.
For at least the next couple of years, the right looks to be in the driver's seat in Quebec. The CAQ, holding a solid balance of power, will be able to control the agenda of the governing PQ. And I wouldn't be surprised to see links develop between the CAQ and the Harper Cons to make sure that any devolution of power happens only on the Cons' terms.
But if Quebec's political direction is going to be based on the common ground available between the CAQ, Cons and PQ, that figures to raise questions for a large number of voters who voted PQ based on its (however questionable) self-identification as a progressive party. And while an impending leadership race might offer an opportunity for the Libs to move into that void, it's doubtful that they can erase the memory of their most recent government within a single minority term.
Meanwhile, last night's results don't signal any huge growth potential among Quebec's smaller parties either. Quebec Solidaire added only a single extra seat to its total and fell far short of the balance of power in an election where "none of the above" options looked to have every chance of breaking through. And Option Nationale couldn't manage even that much.
So the progressive vacuum may be even more conspicuous by the next Quebec election than it is now. And a well-organized NDP should be in an ideal position to win over the same types of voters who have become staunch supporters federally.
Of course, the one catch is that a minority government means that the NDP - like all other parties - will have to be ready for an election at any moment, rather than being able to build over a period of several years. But the uncertainty of a minority government may also present some opportunities. While the parties actually represented in the Assemblee Nationale will find themselves trapped in will-they-or-won't-they confidence vote speculation, there may be all the more room for a strong new option to sidestep the fray by echoing the message of cooperation that worked so well for Jack Layton.
In sum, both last night's general "meh" toward Quebec's existing policies and the minority government that resulted may serve to set up ideal conditions for the emergence of a progressive federalist party. And it only remains to be seen whether the NDP can make its entrance in time for the next election.
Update: Margo McDiarmid reports that Tom Mulcair is instead suggesting it's unlikely a provincial party will materialize before 2015 - which looks like a significant missed opportunity to build the NDP at both levels of government if it proves correct.