In the days following the last Quebec election, people would approach me in public to say there was one thing they hoped Jean Charest's new Liberal government would do.
Improve health care, which the Liberals had identified as their priority? Or cut income tax by $1 billion a year, the Liberal campaign promise most people still remember?
Neither. What people mentioned most often was something the Liberals hadn't even promised: Repeal of the law making it inconvenient for them to shop in supermarkets on weekend evenings.
The law was adopted in 1992 to protect most store employees from having to work on those evenings and to favour competing small convenience stores. It limits to four the number of employees who can work in a supermarket after 5 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday.
The result has been long lineups, harried staff and frustration on the part of the growing number of clients who are too busy to do their shopping at other times.
Even though the Liberals hadn't promised to repeal the law, people thought Charest stood for cutting red tape and making the Quebec government less intrusive. They thought the law was typical of the Parti Quebecois's interventionist style of government - even though it was actually brought in by a previous Liberal administration.
Now in the fourth year of their term, the Liberals have made a tentative attempt to remove or at least ease the restriction on the number of employees allowed to work in supermarkets on weekend evenings.
The supermarket chains say they have collected more than 300,000 signatures from clients in favour of a change, which was also supported by 73 per cent of Quebecers in a poll for the government.
But anxious to avoid controversy and a new confrontation with organized labour in the fourth year of its term, the government appears to have backed off. It looks as though the people who hoped the Liberals would repeal the law will be disappointed.
In its three years in office, the Charest government has managed both to upset Quebecers who fear change and disappoint those who hoped for it.
Among the latter is Gilles Taillon, former chairman of the Conseil du patronat du Quebec, a group of the province's large employers. When the new Charest administration announced its program to reduce the role, size and cost of government, Taillon described it as "music to my ears."
But by the government's midterm, he was already expressing frustration with a lack of action on its part. And this week, he joined Mario Dumont's Action democratique du Quebec, of which he will become president on Sunday.
Recruiting Taillon restored some the respectability the ADQ might have lost since the last election by going populist and playing to the talk-radio yahoo vote.
It was also rare good news for Dumont. His party is nearly $1 million in debt, and its support has fallen from 18 per cent of the vote in the last election to a projected 13 per cent in last month's CROP-La Presse poll. There has been speculation recently that the next election will be the last for Dumont and the ADQ, which in 12 years of existence has never had more than its present five members of the National Assembly.
One of Taillon's duties will be to recruit candidates for the ADQ. But don't expect another wave of businesspeople to follow Taillon into Dumont's party, as they did four years ago.
Then, the ADQ was leading in the polls, filling a vacuum created by dissatisfaction with the PQ government and doubts about Charest. Businesspeople were drawn to Dumont's party by its apparent proximity to power as well as its conservative program.
But the ADQ now looks like anything but a winner. Contributions from businesspeople have dried up, and some who supported the ADQ have gone back to the Liberals.
The next election will be polarized between the sovereignist PQ on the left and the federalist Liberals on the right. And Taillon looks more like an exception than the beginning of a trend.
Don't expect any stampede to the ADQ
Dumont's party is going nowhere fast and high-profile defection is an exception