"L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace"- Daring, daring, always daring.
If Jean Charest was not inspired by that line from the film Patton, a quotation mistakenly attributed by U.S. General George Patton to Frederick the Great of Prussia, then he has been by its spirit.
Yesterday Charest went on the offensive, launching the earliest winter election campaign in Quebec in more than 80 years, in the hope of catching his adversaries while they are weak. The election will be held March 26, when snowstorms to discourage voter turnout are still possible.
And while the Liberals have recently been rising in the polls, the voters' dissatisfaction with the Charest government and their desire for a change are still very high.
Charest has not yet been premier for four years. No one outside of his party really wants a winter campaign, despite the hollow bravery of the other leaders; the only explanation he gave yesterday for calling the election so early in the year is that "it's my judgment" that the electorate is ready to vote.
He could have waited at least another month, as he originally planned, using the additional time to try to strengthen his still-shaky position.
That's what a more conventional, more cautious leader would have done, one with less confidence in his own ability to come from behind during the campaign. But Charest had all but committed himself to calling the election today at a time when the published poll results were still indicating a probable Liberal defeat.
Charest has been energized in recent months by the approach of the campaign, as he was before the last one.
There are other, striking parallels between the situation at the start of this campaign and the last one, down to the fact that the last one also began in winter, the day after the government tabled its budget.
In 2003, the governing Parti Quebecois had the momentum and was rising in the polls, just as the Liberals are now. But at the start of the last campaign, the party preferences obscured a high level of desire for a change of government.
In March 2003, CROP reported that 50 per cent of voters wanted a change. Last month, it was 56 per cent who wanted one.
Also, going into the last election, the leader of the opposition benefitted from low expectations. So when voters took a second look at Charest in the televised leaders' debate two weeks before the election, they were favourably impressed by his unexpectedly strong performance.
This time, expectations for Andre Boisclair are even lower than they were for Charest in 2003. Since he became leader in 2005, the PQ has lost 13 to 16 points in popularity, depending on the polling firm, and slipped into second place behind the Liberals. Just before the election, Boisclair had to put down a revolt in his dysfunctional party. And journalists have got used to being approached at PQ meetings by party members eager to vent against their leader.
Most observers have privately written off the PQ. Boisclair's entourage complains about the mostly negative news coverage he gets and the speculation has started that the PQ could even slide into third-party status behind Mario Dumont's Action democratique du Quebec.
In addition, he is in his first campaign as a party leader, while Charest and Dumont are each in their fourth (including one for Charest with the federal Progressive Conservative Party). Boisclair is brittle under pressure, and with leadership an issue, this campaign is shaping up as possibly the most personally nasty in Quebec history.
More than either of the other two leaders, Boisclair needs to get his campaign off to a strong, error-free start, to reassure his own nervous party.
So he could exceed expectations simply by first surviving until the televised leaders' debate in the second-last week of the campaign and then holding Charest to a draw.
It's Charest who must live up to high expectations this time, because of his reputation as a campaigner. But that reputation was acquired while he was in opposition, without having to defend his government's record.
We know Charest has the daring to attack. The question about him in this campaign is how well he can defend.
Like Patton, the premier knows how to attack, but the question is: Can he defend?