If John Parisella and Michel Bissonnette were to team up for good, create their own strategic counselling firm and register it on the stock exchange, its shares would be going through the roof.
When Jean Charest brought back these two experienced advisers from the Bourassa era, it was one of his savviest moves since he became premier in 2003. The proof is in the pudding. Yesterday's Le Devoir/Léger Marketing poll confirmed a recent CROP poll: Charest's Liberals have stepped into majority territory. More important, their resurgence since the end of last fall has been slow, but constant. This makes the Liberals' growing support appear to be less volatile than previously thought.
The Liberals have risen from the dead. Now at 42 per cent, their support stood at 24 per cent across Quebec last September. They then had a dismal 15-per- cent support among francophones while the Action démocratique reigned at 37 per cent.
Yesterday, Léger Marketing confirmed that it's now the ADQ that stands at a humiliating 17 per cent among francophone voters. But the cruellest data is the one that puts the Liberals at 47 per cent in the Quebec City region, the former ADQ stronghold.
On his way to his 50th birthday on June 24, Charest will probably also reflect on that staggering 57-per-cent rate of satisfaction and the 36 per cent of Quebecers who see him as making the best premier when compared with Mario Dumont and Pauline Marois.
Obviously, the Parisella-Bissonnette factor doesn't explain everything. But their contribution shows how crucial image and a sophisticated communications strategy are in modern politics.
Not only did Charest's personal image improve drastically - physically and attitude-wise - the shift in communications for his government has also been one of substance. The most radical shift since last fall is the one that moved Charest away from his confrontational approach in 2003 when he tried to impose a more neo-con agenda on Quebec society. Today, he sounds more centrist and more consensual as he makes the economy his priority and appears to defend what's left of the "Quebec model."
With the Robert Bourassa team at work, the change didn't stop there. Charest used the reasonable-accommodation debate to trade his image as an unconditional federalist for that of a premier who can take on Ottawa while wearing "Quebec values" on his sleeve. Never before had Quebecers heard Charest speak so often of the French language, secularism and so on.
The premier even managed to surf over the release of some worrisome data on the state of French. He did it by doing nothing, and therefore avoiding any controversy. Parisella and Bissonnette obviously learned from Bourassa's wounds, when language turned into a curse for the Liberals whenever they touched it. They know Bill 22 cost them the 1976 election and Bill 178 gave the Rest of Canada an excuse to oppose the Meech Lake Accord.
Charest's fortunes are Dumont's demise. Not only are Dumont and his party no longer the flavour of the day, rumour has it that Marois is shopping around to recruit three or four ADQ MNAs scared of losing their ridings in the next election.
This would be the kiss of death for the ADQ since it would make the PQ the official opposition, depriving the ADQ of the financial and human resources it needs to stay afloat.
No one knows if any ADQ members will bolt to the PQ. But if they do, it would change the parliamentary dynamic and might help the PQ, which has been stuck at 31 to 32 per cent in the polls since Marois took over.
Charest could prevent this by calling an election before eager beaver Stéphane Dion provokes one in Ottawa this fall. The premier could also do some shopping of his own amid nervous ADQ ranks. Power is usually a pretty effective seduction tool.
Whenever Charest does call an election, chances are that a more classic two-party fight with the PQ would benefit the Liberals anyway. With his party's numbers rising and the PQ stalled, anything that would further weaken the ADQ would be good news for Charest.
ADQ's decline is good news for the Liberals
Charest can thank his bounce in polls on his two Bourassa-era advisers