Charest passes leadership review with flying colours - this time

Has highest approval ration from his party of any leader north of Havana

La langue - un état des lieux

"Leave us alone." The delegate who said that in a workshop session at the Quebec Liberal policy convention on Saturday was exasperated at attempts to revive the language issue in Quebec.
But he could have been speaking for Quebecers whose expectations of politicians have been lowered to the point they are willing to vote for the one who annoys them least.
A few hours later, the party announced 97.2 per cent of the 1,911 delegates participating in a secret-ballot vote had expressed confidence in Premier Jean Charest's leadership.

It was a record for a leadership review in a Quebec party, topping the 96.9 per cent Mario Dumont received in 2000 in a vote by mail by card-carrying members of his cultlike Action démocratique du Québec.
As Charest joked to reporters afterward, he now has the highest approval ration from his party of any leader in the western hemisphere north of Havana. And, Liberals insist, he didn't have to campaign for it, either, at least not until the eve of the vote.
Following video testimonials by his ministers and a rare introductory speech by his wife, Michelle Dionne, Charest delivered a humble opening address in which he said he had learned from the party's near-defeat in the election a year ago.
But it was already enough that the party is still in power, and that while their adversaries have begun to appear vulnerable, the Liberals and Charest have been rising in the polls.
Timing is everything in politics, and Liberals at all levels, even in Charest's own entourage, said had the confidence vote been held six months earlier, the result would have been very different.
Had he received less than 80 per cent, it might have signalled the start of the next leadership campaign, whether or not he stepped down immediately. Now, his would-be successors will have to be patient.
But last fall, with new advisers, more efficient work habits and more attention to his physical condition, Charest began to avoid the controversies and errors that characterized his first term as leader. He stopped talking about painful reforms, and instead began to emphasize the economy, which has always been the Liberals' strongest issue.
"If we all work together, we can change the world," said the chorus of the latest Liberal jingle played at the convention. But the lyric was already outdated by the time it was played for the first time at the convention. The Liberals will no longer hear of expanding private health care, let alone changing the world.
And for the first time in a long time, a party that had been in office for years held a convention without any protesters showing up (even when the weather was conducive to demonstrating.) Still, the convention was far from a complete success. Though it was supposed to position the party in the identity debate, it left the Liberals without policies on language or Quebec's place in Canada.
Perhaps intentionally, the convention was allowed to run so far behind schedule that it ran out of time before there could be divisive debates on those questions at the final plenary stage.
It was already apparent from discussions at the workshop stage that many delegates were uncomfortable with nationalist positions. In one workshop, delegates appeared to be more in favour of relaxing present language restrictions than tightening their enforcement, as the party leadership proposes.
The leadership is so preoccupied with appealing to franco-phone voters in the regions that for the first time, the Liberal Party has a president who can't understand English, let alone speak it.
He's Jean D'Amours, former mayor of Rivière-du-Loup. At a news conference after the convention, Charest had to translate a question in English for him.

After the vote on Saturday, a couple of columnists leaving the convention had a chance encounter with Charest. Gracious in victory, he accepted their congratulations without reminding them that his leadership has survived longer than they had predicted before he began his comeback last fall.
But the vote was only a snapshot of the mood of the party on the day it was held. Like any political poll, it is only good until the next one. And as Charest had just demonstrated, a lot can change in six months.

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