If every political columnist got $10 for every time someone said that Jean Charest was a formidable campaigner and that he's bound to show that again, my colleagues and I would be looking at a sizeable nest egg.
The problem is that since 2003, when the Liberals took power, Charest has had the dubious honour of heading a government that's been unpopular from almost Day 1 as an equally unpopular premier.
With the Liberals stuck in a minority government and in third place among francophone voters, the cliché about Charest's amazing campaigning talents is starting to sound like wishful thinking.
Yes, Charest was a great campaigner on the federal scene. Yes, he ran a very effective campaign in Quebec in 2003. But he seemed to lose his mojo fairly quickly after that. In 2007, with an election that could come next spring, the Liberals' hoping and praying for the return of Charest's magical campaigning style might not be enough to get them through the next critical months.
Under normal circumstances, even if it's almost impossible to depose a sitting premier, the Liberal-friendly business milieu, especially the most powerful men among Quebec Inc., would feel a sense of urgency to find a new Liberal leader for the next election.
But since March 26, circumstances are no longer normal, politically speaking, and Quebec Inc. doesn't seem to be in any hurry to make any radical moves.
Now that Pauline Marois has shelved the commitment to hold a referendum, the Parti Québécois's fear factor is now at zero in federalist circles, including Quebec Inc.
The success of Mario Dumont is nothing for them to fear, either. The prospect of an Action Démocratique government is not a problem. The ADQ is business-friendly, populist, and Dumont's flirtation with the sovereignty option in 1995 is dead and buried.
With this new alignment of the political planets after 30 years of federalist-separatist polarization at elections, it's no wonder even the unpopular Charest can rest safely in the knowledge that if he does intend to stay on, few in Quebec Inc., would be tempted to pressure him to leave.
Quebec Inc., is cozying up to Dumont much more than it did in the fall of 2002 when the ADQ had a kind of freak instant rise in the polls. Dumont is now a serious alternative for the premier's job.
In 2002, it was the middle-management of Quebec Inc. that flirted with Dumont, men like Marcel Dutil.
This time, rumour has it that support and financing for Dumont has reached the upper echelons of the business class. Dumont has already met with Leo Kolber and some influential leaders of the Jewish community. A top assistant to the powerful Laurent Beaudoin of Bombardier organized a fund-raising event for the ADQ.
And Éditions La Presse, the publishing company owned by Power Corp., has asked one of La Presse's senior political reporters to write a biography of Dumont, due out as early as this fall.
So knowing he's safe while Quebec Inc. is busy sending love letters to Dumont, Charest decided to send a few conciliatory signals to his troops. Last week, he quietly ousted his controversial chief of staff and his director of communications.
But getting rid of negative vibes at the Bunker is a good move only if the premier quickly finds some good replacements able to help restore confidence and credibility in the premier's office.
Just ask Bernard Landry. A few months before the 2003 election, as the ADQ soared in the polls, he also axed his unpopular chief of staff, hoping it would calm down the nervous nellies in his government.
But since his new chief-of-staff turned out to be quite unimpressive, Landry's bold move ended up being of no help to him.
And that's a lesson in recent history that Charest might want to think about.
Quebec Inc. is in no hurry to dump Charest
Business elite knows Dumont would also be a friend