The less Charest does, the more he's liked

National Assembly has run out of things to do, and the government is more popular

Charest en fin de régime - L'art de ne rien faire

What if the National Assembly went on summer vacation a month early, and nobody cared?
The Assembly doesn't usually recess for the summer before mid-June. But since it passed the budget last month, the Assembly has had so little to do that it has regularly knocked off more than two hours before the scheduled 6 p.m. adjournment.
Some MNAs are reported to be looking forward to the late-spring change in the Assembly's hours in two weeks, because the daily question period will be over by 11 a.m., leaving them free to hit the golf course.

The minority Liberal government elected a year ago didn't plan on surviving as long as it has, and has already passed almost all the items on the short menu it proposed at the opening of the legislature. And it still isn't strong enough in the polls to risk defeat over controversial new measures.
But the less the government does, the less it risks making the kind of unforced error that plagued the Charest government in its first term. And the less the new, minimalist Charest government bothers the voters by provoking protests that disrupt traffic and make them late for work, the more they seem to like it.
Since his government's minority status forced Premier Jean Charest to abandon the sacrifices he proposed at the start of his first term and to govern more cautiously, he has been rewarded with a steady rise in popularity.
In the CROP-La Presse poll, his government's satisfaction rating, the key indicator between elections, has climbed 20 points since last September. Last month, 53 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the government, to 41 per cent who said they weren't.
And this week's by-elections showed that the voters like things the way they are. By-elections are an opportunity for voters to express their discontent, but in all three ridings that voted on Monday, only about 34 per cent of the eligible voters bothered to turn out.
By-elections also provide voters with an opportunity to give a new party a chance without affecting their choice of a government. Even in ridings that are safe for a party in general elections, upsets sometimes occur in by-elections.
But on Monday, none of the seats changed hands. And it was the "old" parties, the Liberals and the Parti Québécois, that did well, while the newer ones representing change fared poorly. Even the Greens, at a time when everybody claims to care about the environment, got less than 12 per cent of the vote in each of the ridings.
The decline of the ADQ, in particular, shows that the voters were less ready for change than it appeared in the last two general elections.
In 2003, the Liberals were elected on a watered-down version of the ADQ program calling for less expensive and less intrusive government. But when Charest's attempts to apply the platform on which he was elected resulted in disruptions of what former Liberal premier Robert Bourassa called "social peace," the voters quickly turned against him.
Last year, the ADQ came within a few thousand well-placed votes of replacing the Liberals by accident, in what some saw as a generational election of re-alignment along left-right lines instead of federalist-sovereignist ones. But that interpretation has proven premature, as the PQ has reclaimed its former position as the true alternative to the Liberals.
It turns out that both times, the apparent vote for change was merely a vote against the incumbent. What the voters wanted was not a change in the way Quebec is governed but merely a change of the faces of those doing the governing.
The school of thought known as the "lucids" periodically comes out with another essay warning of an approaching demographic and financial crisis and calling for austerity measures to avert it. But Charest has abandoned these former allies, and they know it.
His immediate concern is the survival and eventual re-election of his government with a majority. Maybe then, at the start of a last term as premier, he will try to revive his reforms, as his legacy in Quebec politics.

Until then, he is unlikely to do anything to disturb the voters' comfort and indifference.

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