Firing of aides won't save Charest for long

Dumping of officials is unlikely to appease Liberals who want change at the top

PLQ - en ballottage...

A recent poll gives Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois a comfortable lead in the Sept. 24 by-election in Charlevoix riding, even though she's an outsider.
But the popular Mario Dumont is actively campaigning for her Action démocratique opponent, who came within 2,000 votes of taking the riding from the PQ in the general election six months ago. And one never knows who's actually going to bother to vote in a by-election.
So Marois can't afford to take anything for granted. This week, she invited a television crew into her modest summer cottage in Charlevoix to counter reports that the Montreal millionaire's pied-à-terre in the riding is a "château."

It would cripple Marois's three-month-old leadership were she to become the first major party leader to lose a Quebec by-election, and in a riding she chose, to boot.
Charlevoix was one of several ridings offered to her by PQ members of the National Assembly apparently eager to give up the seats they won only six months ago.
PQ MNAs have been quitting at a record pace so soon after an election. Already two of the party's MNAs have resigned or announced their resignation, and ousted former leader André Boisclair is expected to do so as soon as he finds another job. And this week a fourth, Agnès Maltais, said she is considering quitting to run for mayor of Quebec City.
If Marois wins her seat in the Assembly, she'll have to be careful to avoid being trampled by members of her party rushing out the door. But her leadership of what's left of the PQ would be strengthened, at least for the time being.
Premier Jean Charest should be so lucky.
Again this week, Charest had to deny that his position as Liberal leader is shaky.
This happened after it was learned that the premier's two senior aides are about to join an exodus of senior Liberal officials since the party's poor showing in the March 26 election. And rumours circulated about what the next job would be for Charest himself.
It looked like a regime was ending. No one expected Charest to admit it, but his future now is so much in question that it risks undermining his authority, turning him into a lame duck.
The disclosure that the premier's chief of staff and director of communications are "voluntarily" leaving looked very much like a human sacrifice to try to appease a restless party.
It was hardly a coincidence that the news was leaked on the eve of the first meeting of the fall political season of the caucus of Liberal MNAs, some of whom openly applauded it.
But when members of a party publicly criticize the leader's entourage, it's usually a tactful way of saying that to find the real source of the problem, one must look slightly higher.
A week earlier, La Presse had published results of a poll conducted Aug. 16-26 by CROP in which only 17 per cent of francophones had expressed support for the Liberals. Last June, in what was widely interpreted as a message from the Liberal establishment, La Presse's chief editorialist, André Pratte, wrote that Charest had until fall to show that he could turn the party's fortunes around. But after a summer in which Charest had been more visible than usual, CROP's poll for La Presse showed that his personal popularity had hardly budged.
The sacrifice of the premier's top aides looked like part of a campaign by Charest for the leadership confidence vote he is to face at a party policy convention next March.
Even though Charest's unpopularity might be dragging the once-dominant Liberal Party downward to irrelevance, he's not likely to become the first Quebec leader ever voted out of office by his own party.
But for a Liberal premier, a confidence vote of anything less than the 90 per cent that has become the norm would be a rebuke that might further weaken his authority.

The sacrifice of the premier's aides looked as though it was intended to show the party that he was at least making changes. But such a sacrifice won't appease the members of a political party for long. And now Charest has no more senior aides left to sacrifice.

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