Unlike the PQ, Liberals learned little from last election

Charest government stays the course despite warning from electorate

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

Both the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois lost support in the March 26 election. The former was reduced to a minority government and nearly lost power entirely. And the latter was relegated to third-party status.
But nearly three months later, and with the next election possibly less than a year off, only one of these parties seems to be acting on the message it got from the voters.
The PQ has already changed leaders, for all practical purposes. Pauline Marois won't be officially declared Andre Boisclair's successor until nominations for the leadership close in two weeks. But since Marois and the PQ caucus scared Gilles Duceppe back to Ottawa after his one-day wonder of a candidacy, no other serious candidate (if that's the term for Duceppe) has emerged.
And the party has set the leadership rules to discourage nuisance candidates from waging a costly and otherwise pointless campaign trying to damage the next leader.
That leaves Marois as the lone candidate. And for the seventh time in eight leadership changes in the major Quebec parties in the past 20 years, a new leader will be chosen without having to go through a contested leadership campaign.
On policy, Marois has served notice once she is confirmed as leader, she will take the party toward the political centre and a more business-friendly position - that is, toward the right.
In announcing her candidacy, she said the PQ must "resolutely set a course for economic prosperity, within a perspective of sustainable development."
The creation of wealth, she said, is "the (emphasis in her text) essential condition to advance equality of opportunity, fund public services and build true solidarity."
And shortly afterward, she came out in favour of lifting the freeze on university tuition fees. Among the three major parties in the National Assembly, the PQ had been the last holdout against a fee raise. In a sign of possible future resistance to other policy changes Marois intends to make, student associations at Laval and McGill universities accused her of being to the right of Action democratique du Quebec.
The Quebec Liberal Party, however, doesn't seem to share the PQ's sense of urgency.
First in Premier Jean Charest's inaugural address outlining the government's legislative program for the first session of the new legislature, then in the budget, the government has stolen several ideas from the ADQ.
For example, it recently announced the return of school report cards with marks expressed as percentages, an ADQ election promise.
And Charest promised in the inaugural address that the government would listen more to the electorate.
But then he refused to back down from his promise to cut personal income tax next year by $950 million, even though most voters apparently preferred that the money be spent on public services instead.
And outside of the Assembly, there's been little sign of activity in the Liberal Party.
Shortly after the election, John Parisella, chief of staff of former Liberal premiers Daniel Johnson and Robert Bourassa, published an article warning his former party might have "isolated and disconnected itself from some important segments of the population."
Writing in the April edition of Policy Options, Parisella said the party "must make a definitive shift from a party of tactics to one of strategy, vision and ideas," by becoming a "forum for debate about new ideas" and "embolden(ing) its party militants and outside thinkers to think outside the box."
In effect, Parisella wants the Liberal Party to be more like its adversaries. But it will take time to effect such a change in the culture of a party that is usually disciplined to the point of docility, especially when it is in power. And two months after the article's publication, there's little sign anybody in the party is acting on Parisella's advice - or for that matter, has any other ideas to offer.
For that, the Liberal Party might have to wait until it's in opposition - if by then it isn't too late for a party already slipping deeper into third place in popularity among francophones.

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