Why would Charest go in the fall?

Québec - prochaines élections 2007

Maybe it's because the media long to get back on the campaign trail, or maybe it's because Premier Jean Charest looks in top fighting form, either way Quebec is abuzz with rumours of a fall provincial election. This is a bit weird since the latest polls are not especially favourable to the Liberal government. Why would Mr. Charest call a snap election when he lags a few points behind the opposition Parti Québécois -- and this, only three-and-a-half years into his mandate?
The major reason why Mr. Charest might be tempted to call an early election would be to prevent the new PQ leader, André Boisclair, from gaining strength. The PQ has dropped about 10 points in the polls since Mr. Boisclair was elected leader. His partisans, however, hope that now that Mr. Boisclair can sit in the National Assembly -- having won an August by-election -- he will raise his profile and acquire more experience and gravitas. Currently, the PQ leader is seen as a lightweight, and Mr. Charest obviously relishes the idea of facing him in an election.
Yet it's not clear that Mr. Boisclair's image problems can be solved with a little time and experience. The man is bright and personable, but he has character flaws that could make him a weak leader in the heat of an election campaign: He doesn't handle pressure well and is extremely thin-skinned. Mr. Charest, meanwhile, never loses his temper and is a notoriously good campaigner.
Still, the PQ, as a political force, remains a formidable opponent. The latest CROP poll, two weeks ago, had it at 37 per cent, five points ahead of the Liberals. This looks like a small lead, but it isn't since the Liberals' support is heavily concentrated in a few Montreal ridings.
One piece of good news for Mr. Charest is that the rate of dissatisfaction, which was astronomical a few months ago, has declined. Still, at 57 per cent, it remains very high.
There are many, sometimes conflicting, reasons why voters are unhappy with Mr. Charest's government. Ministerial incompetence has transformed small decisions into major crises (e.g. recent decisions regarding the public daycare network or the selling of part of an Eastern Township park to private developers). The labour unions are still fuming about the decree that brought an abrupt end to negotiations in the public sector.
And the relative decline of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's standing in Quebec doesn't help either, given Mr. Harper is Mr. Charest's best ally.
But the disenchantment is found not only on the left. Voters on the right are angry at Mr. Charest for not having implemented massive tax cuts and substantially downsized the state, as he had solemnly promised.
Those who voted for change, after nine years of PQ social-democratic governments, now wonder where the change is.
"The record of this government is disappointing," says the Montreal Economic Institute, a conservative think tank. But Mr. Charest need not worry about conservative voters since they will have no choice but to vote for him when the time comes.
Meanwhile, Mr. Charest and his ministers are busy handing out various subsidies and launching small, but popular, programs -- a flurry of "feel good" news the government is counting on to boost its fortunes.
Chances of a fall election remain slim, although waiting until spring of 2007 could be risky, too, since it might coincide with a federal election. If the Conservative Party were to lose ground in Quebec to the benefit of the Bloc Québécois, this would greatly help the PQ.
For now, all bets are off. After all, Mr. Charest has ample room to manoeuvre in the year-and-a-half he still has ahead of him.

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