Anything can happen

Charest was dead, Boisclair came alive, and Dumont ran a brilliant campaign

Québec 2007 - Analyse

This one will go down in history as the Forrest Gump election. On Monday night, final results will be like a box of chocolates: We just don't know what we're gonna get.

The campaign has been that way from Day 1: completely unpredictable with Jean Charest's best laid plans going astray. The three most striking phenomena in this campaign were the tactical brilliance of Mario Dumont, the awakening of Andre Boisclair and the loss of Charest's fighting instinct.

Famous for being a dynamic campaigner, this time Charest seems to have caught the Landry syndrome. Just like Bernard Landry last time, Charest has run the worst campaign of his career by running solely on his record, taking victory for granted and getting trapped by Dumont in the leaders' debate the same way Landry was by Charest in 2003.

Andre Boisclair proved he is a fighter during the campaign. But unless the PQ gets a majority on Monday, the sovereignist party will be in trouble.

And just like Landry, Charest has spent this last week nervous, worried and increasingly impatient with reporters.

As for Boisclair, the PQ leader put on his boxing gloves. After dragging the Parti Quebecois down in the polls for more than a year, he at least is trying to repair some of his damage.

To be fair, Boisclair, unlike Charest, tried to show enough energy and will to consolidate his own troops. Looking at Charest, you get the impression he has either thrown in the towel, thinking he'll lose, or he doesn't think his leadership would survive long should he deliver only a minority government.

Dumont has been the Maurice Richard of the campaign - a veritable rocket. On Feb. 16, I wrote the ADQ would be a major factor this time. With Charest's continued unpopularity and Boisclair's ineffective leadership, I believed Dumont could be the potential kingmaker in a possible minority government.
But who expected him to run such a slick campaign as well and manage to control everybody's agenda? Dumont hit the bull's eye with a platform that targeted families, middle-income earners and regions. That left Boisclair calling in the PQ's old guard and trying to demonize Dumont, while Charest never knew what hit him.

Even Stephen Harper's budget, timed to help Charest with the so-called remedying of the fiscal imbalance, ended up doing nothing of the sort.
Harper's meddling was so transparent it looked cynical. It also arrived too late in a game when the Liberals were already in trouble and the ADQ was stealing the show. Then there was Charest's strange decision to channel a huge amount of equalization payments - $700 million - into tax cuts.

By doing that, Charest went against the raison d'etre of the whole fiscal-imbalance battle: to strengthen public services. He angered the richer provinces that pay for equalization by using the money for electoral purposes. And he made Harper look bad.

Harper's arrogant sortie on Wednesday, saying he'd negotiate fiscal arrangements only with a federalist government in Quebec, testified to his anger. It also betrayed his worry that if Charest loses or pulls off only a minority, the Rest of Canada will not be amused.

Without a Liberal majority on Monday, expect the media and politicians in the ROC to ask Harper why he handed Quebec recognition as a nation, a place at UNESCO and a couple of billion dollars for nothing? Expect them to ask why he gave the store away to prop up Charest without the results to show for it.
The irony here is that whether Charest or Boisclair gets a minority, federalists will remain, in the short term, in a comfortable position. With a Liberal minority and a strong ADQ opposition, federalists will still rule the National Assembly. Even with a PQ minority, the ADQ and Liberals would block any move toward a referendum anyway.

Anything can still happen on Monday. But all in all, it is the sovereignists who'll be in trouble if they get anything less than a majority.

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