Charest's election scenario eerily mimics Harper's last campaign

Élection Québec - 8 décembre 2008

The posters from last month's federal election are still hanging on the poles, but Quebeckers are heading for another election. Premier Jean Charest, surfing on a wave of unprecedented popular support, is set to try to regain a majority on Dec. 8.
Such news is being greeted with disbelief, if not anger. A recent CROP poll shows that 70 per cent of Quebeckers don't want to hear about another election - the sixth in five years if you start with the 2003 provincial election, then include the 2004 federal election, the 2007 provincial election, the 2008 federal election and the current U.S. presidential election that Quebeckers are eagerly following with a passion that is the reverse of the ennui they felt during the last federal campaign. For once, they'd love to be American. They'd walk miles to vote for Barack Obama.
The opposition parties were quick to denounce Mr. Charest's impending call as crass opportunism - as if it were incongruous that a premier would call an election at a time when the polls look good for him. Only Stephen Harper was idealistic (or foolish) enough to renounce the most important prerogative that the British parliamentary system grants to government leaders - the privilege to set the timing for an election. Mr. Harper won't make the same mistake again. He will surely recall the law inherited from the ghost of his old Reform Party that calls for fixed election dates.
The numbers are excellent for Mr. Charest's Liberals. According to recent polls by CROP and Léger Marketing, they are ahead of the Parti Québécois by nine and eight points, respectively, while the Action Démocratique du Québec is way behind. Both polls registered high rates of satisfaction for the government.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois hasn't yet found her voice. Even though she was a competent cabinet minister under previous PQ governments, Ms. Marois, as leader of a notoriously fractious party, appears unsure of herself and often shifts ideas. And she's not a very inspiring public speaker, either. A campaign might be tough for her because, in Mr. Charest, she will be facing one of the most experienced politicians in Canada, a man who will be going through his fifth election campaign as party leader (including the one he ran as Tory leader in 1997).
Quebec's opposition parties are understandably in a tizzy at the prospect of being rushed into an election. This is especially true of the ADQ, the perennial third party that suddenly, to its own surprise, became the Official Opposition in 2007. The ADQ did the job very poorly, and its leader, Mario Dumont, has lost his clout. He was badly shaken on Oct. 23 when two members of his caucus crossed the floor to join the Liberals.
The PQ is not in splendid form, either, but will most certainly regain its former status as the Official Opposition - and, who knows, maybe more. As last month's federal election eloquently illustrated, anything can happen. Remember: At the outset of the campaign, everyone expected the Conservatives to make big gains in Quebec. And many would have bet on a Conservative majority.
Mr. Charest's election scenario has an eerie resemblance to Stephen Harper's. Mr. Charest, too, is heading a minority government. He, too, pretends that the government can't work properly because of the opposition's obstruction (an accusation that is unfounded in this case since, generally speaking, both the ADQ and the PQ have been playing the game far more fairly than their counterparts in the federal government).
And, of course, Mr. Charest's main theme will be the same one that Mr. Harper focused on during the second half of the federal campaign - the state of the economy within the context of the global financial crisis. But this argument is a bit less convincing coming from a premier, since there's not much a provincial government can do on this count.
The odds right now are that the Liberals will form the next government, but the question is - again - whether it will be a majority or another minority.

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