Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jean Charest Playing With Fire?

Quebec Premier needs to consider perils of an election

The most recent rumblings out of La Belle Province are that Premier Jean Charest is going to have the National Assembly dissolved in favour of an 8 December election.

"It was quite clear from statements made by the ADQ and Parti Quebecois that they're not in a mood to co-operate with the government," Charest recently announced.

Of course, Charest insists that an election isn't necessarily his option of first choice.

"We think the only responsible thing for the this government -- and for this premier -- at this time is not to call an election, but to look for solutions to the crisis," he insisted.

Quebeckers -- and Canadians at large -- may be forgiven if that sounds familiar. It sounds remarkably similar to Stephen Harper's comments prior to dissolving Parliament and calling the recent election that won him a strengthened minority government.

With the provincial Liberal party approaching 38% public support in recent polls, Charest may have the opportunity to win a majority government.

Or, with the separatist Parti Quebecois holding a 21% lead over the current Official Opposition, the Mario Dumont-led Action Democratique du Quebec, Charest may find himself in a more uncomfortable position after the election -- in a minority government, facing a Pequiste Official Opposition.

Or, worse yet, an election that many view as unnecessary and launched only for partisan gain could swing enough support to the Parti Quebecois to help them regain power in the National Assembly -- and put a separation referendum back on the agenda.

As Chantale Hebert notes, "Before precipitating an election to achieve his dream of reducing Mario Dumont's ADQ to third place in the National Assembly, Jean Charest should ask himself whether a campaign that even some of his closest advisers think is unnecessary is worth the risk of finding himself, afterwards, on the opposition side of the legislature next to Mr Dumont.”

It's a very real possibility. A recent poll has shown that 70% of Quebeckers don't want an election -- and certainly not one this soon after a federal election that, in the eyes of many, still seems inconclusive.

Aside from this, time may seem right for Charest to call an election. His party caucus was recently bolstered by the defection of two ADQ members, Andre Riedl and Michel Auger to the Quebec Liberals.

It would also likely strengthen Charest's claims to definitive leadership of the federalist cause in Quebec, deflating the electoral fortunes of the ADQ -- even if it winds up weakening federalism overall by vaulting Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois into the office of the Official Opposition Leader.

If Jean Charest insists on playing with fire and calling an election, he may, like Stephen Harper, come away from it with a stronger mandate. But if he gets burned, he won't suffer alone.

Canada will surely get burned right alongside him -- or may simply get burned in his stead.

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