Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hopefully, Jean Charest Isn't a Poker Player

Charest gambles in Quebec election, and for what?

When Jean Charest left the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1998, it was widely accepted that he was doing so in order to advance the cause of national unity.

Public opinion polls of the time indicated that he was one of the few federalist Quebecers who could defeat then-Parti Quebecois Premier Lucien Bouchard in an election. Charest's change of venue from federal to provincial politics was not, it was assured, done to advance is own career.

Ten years later, it's Charest himself who has cast doubt on that claim with his call of a December election.

If current polls remain stable, this election should have two basic results:

First off, it would return Charest back to power with another minority government. Secondly, it would elevate Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois back into the role of the Official Opposition, at the expense of Mario Dumont and the ADQ.

The federalist ADQ.

After reaching the dizzying heights of Official Opposition status in the 2007 election, Dumont's ADQ has plummeted from the 31% of the popular vote they collected that night to 14% in recent polls.

Whether the ADQ's marked decline has more to do with an apparent re-disillusionment with conservative politics in Quebec or a decided improvement in the Parti Quebecois' leadership or disappointment with Dumont's performance as Opposition leader is a matter that will be open to a good deal of speculation in the coming weeks and months.

But there's simply no getting around the fact that Dumont, instead of taking full advantage of the electoral misfortune the Parti Quebecois suffered under Andre Boisclair, has instead called an election that will return them as the Official Opposition.

If Charest were well-situated to win a majority, that would be one thing. But current polls in Quebec have his party sitting at 41% public support. The Parti Quebecois trails with 31% -- a mere six-point difference in the polls.

Certainly, the party is tantalizingly close to a majority government, but could quite easily lose the election altogether. Marois and the PQ currently hold 39% support among Quebec's francophone voters. The Liberals trail them in this critical demographic with 34%.

Polling at the start of the election had the Liberals and PQ in a dead tie amongst francophones.

Not only did Charest not start the election in majority territory, but his party's support is slipping among the province's dominant demographic. All around, this election is not starting off well for Charest, and federalist Canadians, both inside and outside of Quebec, may be hoping in vain for a turn in his fortunes.

It leads one to question Charest's motivations in the first place. Either Charest's political judgment is highly suspect or this election was simply about trying to reclaim his dominant position on the federalist scene in Quebec.

In other words, Charest's jump to provincial politics may not have been about unity at all. Although a great many Canadians would like to think otherwise, Charest may have simply been out for himself.

Now, he's gambling with Canadian national unity. Hopefully, the hapless Charest Canadians are seeing right now is merely him wearing his poker face.

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