Liberals will be official opposition in Quebec
Philippe Couillard had been hoping to do what many Liberal leaders had done before and tap into hidden wells of support throughout Quebec.
Unfortunately that failed to happen, and he will be a one-term premier of Quebec.
Couillard was gracious in his concession speech and thanked his family, his team, and fellow candidates for the campaign.
"I wish to congratulate Mr. Legault on his clear and unambiguous victory. Quebecers have clearly indicated their desire for change, and it is up to him and his team now to continue the direction in which Quebec is going," said Couillard.
"Despite our important differences of opinion we are all Quebecers. We must stay united. We are stronger when we're united."
Couillard urged his supporters to be proud of what they accomplished over the past four years, including eliminating the deficit and creating the means for the province to succeed.
"I'm not bitter, and I ask you to not be bitter too," said Couillard.
"We did it, and we did what we promised we would do. Together we did what needed to be done to make the province more prosperous, greener, and fairer."
"I leave Quebec in a much better position than when I found it," said Couillard.
As Liberal leaders often do, Couillard also spoke in English.
"You are like us, first-class Quebecers. Stay with us. Build our Quebec with all Quebecers. Yes French is our official language. English is not a foreign language in Quebec."
"You have always been among us, part of us, part of our history," said Couillard.
Couillard did not say he would leave his post as leader of the Liberal party, but said he would think about it in order to do what is best for the Liberals.
Weakened support in suburbs
Going into the election campaign the Liberal party was second in the polls and its declared support did not waver throughout the 39-day campaign.
Couillard specifically chose to have a longer campaign in hopes that his Coalition Avenir Quebec rival, Francois Legault, would commit gaffes during the campaign.
Those gaffes did arrive as Legault proved to be vague in terms of discussing exactly what he would do concerning immigration and education, even though those issues have been his main concerns for years.
However that failed to have an impact, and Legault's fortunes resumed their rise in the final week of the campaign after Couillard made many gaffes of his own, most notably when asked about the grocery budget for a family in Quebec.
He said it was possible but difficult for a family to feed itself on $75 a week, however the nuance was lost to pundits and the public at large.
Couillard repeatedly said that a $75 budget was not healthy, but that he knew families getting by on that little money, which is why he wanted to improve the status of poor Quebecers, but many people wrote his statements off as being tone-deaf.
The end result was the Liberals lost much of their support outside the city of Montreal and its western suburbs. Half of its seats in Laval flipped to the CAQ, and it lost support everywhere else in the province.
David Heurtel, who was a minister in Couillard's cabinet, said the difficulty in displaying emotion was a problem for the Liberal leader.
"You didn't see a lot of emotion in that [concession] speech. You saw the brain surgeon, the doctor, talking very calmly, without any emotion, about what he did in terms of results and what he did over the last four and a half years," said Heurtel.
"I think what lacked in this campaign for the Liberals... was a sense of vision, of emotion, a sense of bringing people together in a common cause."
The decision that Couillard made when it took power four years ago dogged him throughout his time as premier and the campaign.
The so-called austerity budgets from 2014 and 2015, pushing the province to finally balance its budget after years of ballooning deficits and debts, angered many who said it would have a negative effect on healthcare and education.
But faced with threats of sky-high interest rates, and a greying population with fewer people of working age, Couillard judged the fiscal work was necessary in order to get the debt under control.
The short-term fiscal pain worked, and Quebec's debt is shrinking for the first time in generations, and it is one of the few provinces in the country that has a rosy financial future.
However the economy record, and the decreasing unemployment rate, failed to make much of a dent with voters during a campaign where people cared more about immigration and identity.
Throughout the campaign Couillard defended immigration, Canada, and tolerance, saying that Quebecers need to realize the province needs immigrants.
He called immigration the "ballot question," and said bringing skilled people into Quebec was necessary in order to find people qualified and willing to work in order to support an aging population.
Couillard said it was due to difficult personal choices he had made, and vehemently denied having any offshore accounts.
Fatigue with the Liberals
Even before the election campaign began the Liberals were criticized as being a tired, old party, with many francophones saying they perceived the party as corrupt -- a legacy of the Charbonneau commission into corruption and organized crime in the construction industry.
Pundits and the public glossed over the fact that Couillard was a first-time premier, and that the Liberals had taken over the government from the Parti Quebecois.
Pauline Marois's 19 months in office was ignored, and many remember Couillard as being in cabinet during the Jean Charest era which began in 2003 and continued, through majority and minority governments, until 2012.
The party was also tainted by apparent disloyalty, as every MNA who had served before being elected in 1998 was forced out and replaced, such as happened in the riding of Marquette in Montreal.
Meanwhile in the final weeks of the campaign Couillard had to repeatedly defend Guy Ouellette, the former police officer turned MNA who was arrested in October 2017 for allegedly leaking confidential information about a UPAC investigation to the media, and sending emails to the CAQ.