Already floundering in the polls, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney suffered yet another setback today as Quebec in a special election sent a separatist to Ottawa to fight for independence.
Monday's by-election in a Montreal electoral district was a slap in the face for Mulroney, who has staked much of his political future on keeping this often fractious country united.
Gilles Duceppe, a former union negotiator, won a landslide victory and became the first Quebecer to win a federal seat with an openly pro-independence campaign.
Duceppe, joining the newly formed Bloc Quebecois (Quebec Bloc) in Parliament, rode a wave of French discontent that has been building since the rejection of a constitutional accord to bring Quebec into the constitution.
"Quebec has finally understood that English Canada will never say yes to any demand from Quebec," Duceppe said after his victory. "Sovereignty is the only possible option for Quebec and the riding (district)."
Late counts showed Duceppe won 66% of the vote while the Liberal candidate was second with 20% and the Conservatives a distant third.
The ruling Conservatives, as expected, also lost a by-election in Oshawa, Ontario--near Toronto--that was won by the opposition New Democrats.
By-elections are held between general elections to replace vacant seats in the House of Commons.
The Bloc Quebecois is fast becoming a thorn in Mulroney's side. The group, now eight members strong, was formed after two English Canadian provinces failed to ratify the Meech Lake accord in June recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. The failure of the accord, which Quebec said was needed to protect its French culture, was interpreted as a rejection of the province and its French way of life within Canada.
The trouncing of the Conservatives in their traditional stronghold of Quebec spells trouble for the Mulroney government, which must call a general election by 1993. The party needs to carry Quebec to have any hope of forming a third majority government.
The Montreal by-election was also a big defeat for the opposition Liberals. With the Liberals placing a distant second in the electoral district they have held for years, commentators also saw the result as a wholesale rejection of the party's new leader, Jean Chretien.