How much trouble is Jean Charest really in? Quite a bit. Signs are growing that some Liberals already are thinking of the post-Charest era while working hard to bring it on.
Yesterday's La Presse front- page headline was one more sign: "Mario Dumont courted by the Jewish community." Wow, I thought. Must feel pretty special to be courted by 90,000 people.
But whereas the headline failed to distinguish between an entire community and some of its leaders, the secondary headline was more precise: "He was the guest of influential leaders in Montreal on the Thursday night when the budget was negotiated in Quebec City."
You could read this story on one level and get that Dumont was absent from Quebec City on the night that the adoption of the budget was negotiated between the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois because he was in Montreal meeting with influential business leaders and Liberal fundraisers from the Jewish community.
Or you could go to the second level and get that businesspeople, whatever community they're in, cozy up to whomever they feel might be the next in power. Money has no religion, no language, only interests.
And if the guy they see as the next premier also happens to be sympathetic to the private sector and he's not a separatist, all the better.
That's why since the election, Dumont has been courted by businesspeople as he was in the fall of 2002 when polls predicted Action democratique du Quebec would form the next government.
Then, there's the third level. That one has less to do with Dumont, and more to do with Charest and some Liberals who seem to be working hard to undermine his leadership and get a new leader in time for the next election.
The real story in that article was the number of anonymous Liberal sources the reporter quotes. They all portrayed this one meeting as a major confidence crisis toward the Liberals within the entire Jewish community.
The reality is that there's no massive movement of the Jewish community to the ADQ. What matters here is the subtext, courtesy of those anonymous Liberals: If some leaders of a traditionally Liberal community, perceived as powerful, are courting the ADQ leader, it must be Charest's fault.
One anonymous Liberal was quoted as saying the meeting was a strong signal to the Jewish community itself that "Dumont seems to be in the antechamber of power." Another claimed Dumont was assured he'd receive an "important level of financial support" in exchange for recognition of the Jewish General as a university hospital.
Another one said this shows just how angry the Jewish community is at the Liberal government for the kerfuffle about subsidies to Jewish schools and for Lawrence Bergman's ouster from cabinet. Guess who messed up both times? Charest.
And it's not only Liberals who, rightly or wrongly, have entered the post-Charest era. Watch how strongly the ADQ and the PQ are now gunning for Health Minister Philippe Couillard, the guy they think could replace Charest as Liberal leader.
Opposition parties have turned Couillard into their No. 1 target. In question period, they hammer him with accusations of negligence and incompetence. Health ministers are often in trouble, but Couillard just can't get a break these days.
Tellingly enough, the La Presse article also quotes Mike Cohen from the Jewish Tribune: "Liberals must dump Charest" and "anybody but Charest is the Liberals' only chance of being re-elected." In other words, Dumont is being courted just in case. But businesspeople, whatever language or religion, would prefer getting a stronger Liberal leader instead.
Premier Jean Charest likes to say his eulogy has been written so many times he doesn't pay attention anymore. This time, maybe he should.
Courtship between business, Dumont shows Charest in trouble
Jewish community leaders might prefer a new Liberal leader instead of ADQ