Charest is beginning to look like a tired Bourassa

Corruption libérale - FIER - CDP - etc...

Three more years of this? Less than five months into its new term, the Charest government already looks too old and tired to care.
It has lost its fiscal discipline, given up even pretending to balance the provincial budget, and put off identifying billions of dollars in revenue increases and spending cuts which it must make over the next four years. That task has been left to the second finance minister in this term, the first one having already retired.
And after six years in power, the Liberals appear to be indulging a sense of personal entitlement, to judge by a series of real or apparent ethical lapses reminiscent of those during the second term of Robert Bourassa's Liberal government of the 1970s.
That government went on to suffer what remains, in terms of vote share, the worst Liberal defeat in history.
The honesty of the current government has been widely doubted since shortly after the campaign, in which it is strongly suspected of having concealed the truth about the province's economic outlook, especially last year's losses at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
This week the government's honesty was brought into question again, by a flurry of allegations of conflicts of interest. The lobbyists commissioner confirmed that he is checking an allegation that Jean D'Amour, Liberal party president and former mayor of Rivière-du-Loup, broke the law by lobbying the municipality, for pay, less than two years after leaving office.
D'Amour is the Liberal candidate in a by-election in Rivière-du-Loup riding. Premier Jean Charest had been expected to call that by-election this week, but did not.
Meanwhile this week, it was confirmed that two government regional-development funds have made investments outside their respective regions, in firms whose shareholders include Liberals who sit on the boards of the funds. The government agency responsible for the funds, Investissement Québec, insisted that this was not against its rules. But that raised the question of whether it should have been.
Also, we learned this week that Charest had relaxed his conflict-of-interest rules for his ministers, to allow International Relations Minister Pierre Arcand to keep his minority interest in an advertising-sign business that might "indirectly" profit from government contracts.
Arcand has been considered cabinet material since he was first elected for the Liberals in March 2007, and could have sold his interest in the business at any time since then in order to comply with the rules in effect over that period. Or, if he insisted on keeping the interest, he could have declined appointment to the cabinet.
But Charest relieved Arcand of the need to choose by changing the rules to accommodate him - just the kind of too-clever, cynical move that Bourassa used to pull.
What's more, Charest lazily defended his action by saying the rules were similar to those in effect at the federal level and in Ontario, an easily verifiable statement quickly found to be false.
Charest appears to have regressed to the poor judgment that characterized his first term at the head of a majority government. And now that he's become the first Quebec premier in more than half a century to win a third consecutive term, he gives the impression that he has got all he wants out of politics, and doesn't expect to win a fourth.
Other Liberals, however, should be concerned about the state of the party that Charest will leave behind. It will be a party in robust financial health because it is the party of well-off contributors. But its electoral base has shrunk to less than one-quarter of Quebec's registered voters.
Its election victory obscured the fact that the Liberal party was already in need of rebuilding. That need will be even greater if its current term continues as it has begun. The Quebec Liberal Party can't take three more years of this.

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