Quebec's CAQ secures bigger mandate with pledge to cap immigration, protect French

MONTREAL/OTTAWA, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who campaigned to protect the French language and cap immigration, was set for a second term on Monday with a thumping election victory in the Canadian province, promising to cut taxes to offset higher living costs.

His center-right Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) is on track to boost its majority in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, CBC News projected.

The ruling CAQ, which was founded in 2011, was set to win at least 83 of the 125 seats in Quebec's legislature, according to CBC. The party won 74 seats in their first term in 2018. Polls closed at 8 p.m. (0000 GMT).

Preliminary data from Elections Quebec showed the CAQ was leading in 88 seats just after 10:30 p.m.

"People put their confidence in us for a second mandate," Eric Caire, a CAQ member of Quebec's national assembly, told CBC. "For the first time in his (Legault's) career he had to face a mandate and defend the way he managed the outbreak, the government ... I think people tonight tell him that he did great."

Legault's projected win follows a controversial campaign centered on identity, immigration and a rise in inflation, and marked by several gaffes. He apologized last month for awkwardly linking newcomers to Quebec with extremism and warned last week that bringing in immigrants who did not speak French would be "suicidal."

Quebec's CAQ-affiliated labor minister also apologized on Twitter last week for saying that most immigrants "go to Montreal, don't work, don't speak French, and don't adhere to the values of Quebec."

Legault's promise to cap immigration at 50,000 each year put him at odds with the business community, who pushed for more foreign workers because of labor shortages and restrictive immigration policies. The provincial unemployment rate is 4.5%, below the 5.4% for all of Canada.

Legault, 65, is a self-made businessman and co-founder of Montreal-based carrier Air Transat (TRZ.TO). read more

CAQ was widely expected to win re-election in the face of a fractured opposition. CBC projected that the centrist Liberals would form the opposition to the CAQ, helped by their stronghold in Montreal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Legault and the CAQ.

In the recent campaign, Legault promised to cut middle-class taxes to blunt the impact of high inflation on Quebec's 8.5 million people and vowed to protect the status of the province's official French language. read more

Legault was a minister for the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) government from 1998 to 2003. Quebec accounts for a fifth of Canada's overall GDP and is the country's second-most populous province.

With inflation in Canada hitting pocketbooks, cost-of-living issues were a hot-button issue during the election campaign. CAQ proposed tax cuts and pledged to hand out one-time payments of C$400 or C$600 for those earning less than C$100,000 ($73,300).

($1 = 1.3647 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Leslie Adler, Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger

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