This week's devastating CROP/La Presse poll had one silver lining for Jean Charest. The premier can always find some solace in the fact he's at least more popular in Quebec than Stéphane Dion.
That's relatively speaking, of course. The CROP poll showed among francophone voters, Charest's Liberal Party is at an all-time low of 15 per cent whereas Dion's federal Liberals just hit bottom at 11 per cent.
It's not only the Liberal brandname that's collapsed, it's also its leaders. Stuck in opposition and in trouble, panicked MPs feel they have nothing to lose by criticizing Dion in public. Raymonde Folco's "Dion just doesn't have it, and needs some new people to help him" was brutal, but true.
Since the Quebec Liberals are still in power, no minister or MNA will attack Charest in public. But many Liberals are wondering what they'll do if they go into the next election with Charest as leader.
The poll also shows that faced with the current lineup of leaders, voters are still very much in a minority-government mood. Their only quandary is whether to give it to the Action démocratique or to the Parti Québécois.
Among francophones, the ADQ leads with 37 per cent, but the PQ follows at 36 per cent - that's within the margin of error. This means the best Pauline Marois can hope for is going back to the official opposition, or if really lucky, get a minority government.
Although things can change, the overall numbers show no
real "Marois effect" so far. Under André Boisclair, the PQ got a disastrous 28 per cent. CROP now puts the PQ at 30 per cent. A two- per-cent rise doesn't exactly qualify as spectacular.
With such limited hopes in the short term, Marois figured if she goes into an election promising a referendum, she'd get laughed off the campaign trail. So she dropped that commitment right off the bat.
But it's a risky move that could end up quietly throwing more disgruntled Péquistes and nationalists into the waiting arms of the ADQ and further weaken the Bloc.
Yesterday's Le Devoir confirmed how much PQ membership continues to dwindle, along with grim party finances. With a deficit of $1.5 million and the disappearance of most of the quickie members signed up by the Boisclair clan for the leadership race of 2005, the PQ says it has 90,000 members left - a number that needs to be confirmed.
Aside from the artificial inflation of membership rolls for the leadership race - including a dog named Pixell Daoust and a plant called Gilbert Laplante that voted by phone - PQ membership has gone down since 1996 when a referendum was no longer in sight.
By doing the same, and saying it more clearly than Lucien Bouchard's "winning conditions" ever did, Marois could have trouble bringing people and donations back to the party with promises of "good government."
As for the ADQ, its numbers for 2006 were as unimpressive. But it's a safe bet that with the last election results, the ADQ's fortunes and membership are up. Way up.
Money isn't everything though. The ADQ made a surprising splash on March 26 with little money. But with CROP showing 35 per cent of Quebecers think Marois would make a better premier, 29 per cent for Dumont and 19 per cent for Charest, Dumont is stuck with his biggest weakness: his team's lack of experience.
Faced with an experienced Marois, Dumont has to recruit at least four or five prominent candidates if he wants a real shot at power. He can't go into the next campaign without some credible men and women whom voters could picture as ministers of finance, health and education.
In the next few months, the only thing that could change that picture is a change of Liberal leadership. If that happens, the results of the next election are anyone's guess.
The political game could change if Charest bails
Liberals are way down, but the PQ is broke and ADQ is inexperienced