When a boxer attacks an opponent in a carelessly aggressive way that leaves him open to a counterattack, he's said to be leading with his chin.
What Andre Boisclair did was more like leading with his nose.
In one of the last daily question periods before the National Assembly adjourned for the holiday recess last week, Premier Jean Charest called Boisclair "the Parti Quebecois receptionist who takes phone messages from all the lobbies."
In response, the PQ leader blurted that "I'm not the one who called a judge when I was a minister," referring to the meddling in a court case that forced Charest to resign from the Mulroney cabinet in 1990.
But if there's anyone who should avoid bringing up the indiscretions of young cabinet ministers, it's Boisclair, who has admitted to snorting cocaine while he was a minister.
"When you live in a glass house, be careful what you throw," commented Liberal House leader Jacques Dupuis.
The exchange couldn't have filled Pequistes with confidence at the thought of Boisclair having to think on his feet for at least 33 days in his first election campaign as party leader.
The highlight of the Quebec political season just ending was supposed to be Boisclair's return to the National Assembly to face Charest.
Boisclair did have some success in the second half of the year. But all of it came outside the Assembly.
He answered the question of whether he could assert his authority over the PQ.
When he abandoned the party's commitment to make sovereignty the sole plank of its platform for the next election, and began to replace it with a platform of good provincial government, there were no objections.
The high point of his fall was when he earned applause from most commentators for defying his party's governing council by opposing the nationalization of wind power.
Comfortable PQ victories in two August by-elections, one of them won by Boisclair himself, indicated that his party has little to fear in a general election from the new Quebec solidaire party on its left.
And the decline in the PQ's popularity that followed Boisclair's election as leader appeared to have levelled off, leaving the party still high enough for the party to win an election.
Still, Boisclair has been unable to fulfill his rash promise to recruit a team of candidates as strong as Rene Levesque's in the first PQ government. His only real star recruit so far is actor Pierre Curzi. Rather than an "equipe du tonnerre," (figuratively a powerhouse, literally a "team of thunder"), Boisclair's looks like the team of increasing cloudiness.
And if prospective candidates aren't convinced that the PQ looks like a government in waiting, maybe it's because it's hard to picture its leader as head of Canada's most difficult province to govern.
At 40, Boisclair is older than either Robert Bourassa or Pierre Marc Johnson when they became leader (36 and 39 respectively). But compared with such recent PQ leaders as Jacques Parizeau, Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry, Boisclair seems much younger and less experienced.
And while he entered the Assembly in response to criticism that he was not visible enough, the most attention he got this year was for his ill-considered participation in a dubious television parody of the gay-love film Brokeback Mountain. Boisclair said that in entrusting his image to the producers, he had been naive.
That might not have been the only occasion on which Boisclair demonstrated a quality not often associated with career politicians and aspiring leaders. Speaking to reporters after the Assembly adjourned, he dismissed as a "game" Charest's frequent references to Boisclair's "lack of maturity" and "lack of judgment." Boisclair said that sometimes, after Charest has criticized him in the Assembly, "he winks at me."
Boisclair interpreted this as a friendly sign. But maybe what it really means is "gotcha," the way Patrick Roy was once caught on camera winking at an opposing forward he had just robbed of a goal. And if Charest is so cordial toward Boisclair, maybe it's because he doesn't feel threatened by him.
Leading with his nose
There are growing doubts Boisclair is mature enough to be premier