Mr. Charest's cynical game

Québec 2007 - Parti libéral du Québec

And they're off. Not that they were ever really on. But you know what I mean: Quebecers will vote, as expected, on March 26. And for once, it will be an interesting campaign to watch. Yay! We'll have lots of time to talk about the serious and sometimes hilarious bits in the next few weeks. So I'd like to devote this column to Premier Jean Charest and the truly awesome job he's done.
OK, I wouldn't. Actually, listening to him explain why he should get to stay premier for another four years, I find myself wondering what the world would be like if everybody else made the same basic argument about their own job performances.
Mr. Charest's popularity levels have been stuck in the sub-basement for a solid three years and he has conspicuously failed to deliver on his main promises. Remember the plan to "re-engineer" the state? But lately he's been looking exactly like the cat that ate the worn-out cliche. And the newspapers tell me he may turn out to be the one to beat, that he appears so confident he's downright cocky, and those of us who've been predicting his demise should be ignored as we are evidently clueless.
We're talking about the same Jean Charest, right? I realize that politics has its own special rules. And I agree that he may manage not to lose the election, given how wretchedly awful his main opponent is. But is that really cause for self-congratulation? Yet he came out of a Liberal party meeting last weekend (during which members approved a more-of-the-same platform) spectacularly re-invigorated. How can he seriously think promising to improve health and education, when he obviously failed to improve them as he promised he'd do in 2003, will get him re-elected? Does he believe his own hype?
Imagine if I wrote columns the way this guy's running for re-election: First, I'd promise to tell you how to solve the world's most vexing problems. Then those columns wouldn't run. Then I'd appoint myself the bee's knees and demand a generous contract renewal and a wave of unbounded adulation while badmouthing everyone else who submitted copy to the newspaper.
Of course. Don't you know that other columnists are divisive, incompetent, immature, inexperienced and lack judgment, eloquence and even punctuation skills? And -- imagine that -- they dress funny. Meanwhile I, and I alone, have shown that I can be trusted to deliver a unique blend of inclusive informative entertaining writing.
Hey, if it works for Mr. Charest ...
I'm not done. I'd also take credit for things my rivals wrote. Yes, sir. First I'd call opposition writers stupid, then I'd steal their ideas and take credit for writing them up. On the Liberal website, there's a nifty son et lumiere feature (see
index.html) describing, at length, the party's achievements. Some, like the increased number of spots in subsidized daycare or the implementation of a generous parental-leave program, were Parti Quebecois ideas. Now they belong to Jean Charest, or so says Jean Charest. Wow, is it really that easy?
Apparently. For I, columnist extraordinaire, could also promise again to solve many of the world's problems, ignoring that I hadn't delivered solutions to most of them as promised last time. Thus Mr. Charest's Liberals promised, in Tuesday's pre-electoral budget, to cut taxes by $250 million in 2008 after not keeping 2003's promise to cut them by $1 billion a year for five years.
Finally, I could extract a big bonus from management by threatening to throw a tantrum, and use that money to buy dedicated readers and friendly letter-writers. Thus Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently gave a few hundred millions of dollars to Quebec for ill-defined environmental programs, to say nothing of what's coming in the March 19 federal budget to soothe, temporarily, the itchy sore known as the "fiscal imbalance," which, incidentally, is a concept invented by the PQ that now belongs to everyone.
In case your opinion of journalists is only marginally better than your opinion of politicians, imagine instead that your auto mechanic sought business with this kind of pitch. "I know I said I'd fix your car and, sure, it's still in my garage and it's missing a wheel. But hey, the other garage would have lost at least two wheels. So bring me your wife's car."
Now imagine your doctor talking like that. "Yeah, yeah, sure I said I'd take out your inflamed appendix last year, but I'm still stuck cleaning up the mess the previous doctor left behind four years ago. Next year, I promise ..."
You wouldn't trust a mechanic, a doctor, or indeed a columnist who talked that way. Why does Jean Charest think he's different?
Brigitte Pellerin's column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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