Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Vicious election fight expected in Quebec
MONTREAL -- In announcing the Sept. 4 Quebec election on Wednesday, incumbent Premier Jean Charest presented himself to the voters as more responsible than the pot-banging, pandering leader of the Parti Québécois, Pauline Marois.
But it was not quite a dignified, statesmanlike image the Liberal leader projected in the photo that almost leaped from the front page of that morning's Le Devoir.
The photo, by Jacques Nadeau, showed Charest delivering a speech at a Liberal rally in his riding of Sherbrooke on the eve of his calling the election.
He appeared to be shouting. His eyes were wide, his fist was raised and his mouth was open in an apparent roar, with his lower teeth bared.
It was the snarling expression of a cornered animal about to attack.
For Charest has been cornered -- by himself, and his strategic blunder in waiting until the latter half of his term to give in to demands for what amounts to a public inquiry into his government.
Charest had until December 2013 to call the election. On Wednesday, he justified calling it now by a need for the voters to take sides in his government's dispute with students and their Parti Québécois ally over university-tuition increases.
But the election might not settle anything; the dominant student organization, the radical CLASSE, has so far refused to commit itself to respect the result if voters return the Liberals to office.
The real reason Charest called the election was to get it over with before the public hearings of the Charbonneau commission resume Sept. 17. And to do that, he had to call the election before his party was in position.
Results of a Léger Marketing poll for the QMI news agency published on the morning of the election call suggest Charest's Liberals have fallen 15 percentage points behind Marois's PQ in support among French-speaking voters.
Based on the poll's results, the Too Close to Call website projects a bare majority for the PQ, and a near-record low in seats for the Liberals since the National Assembly expanded to the present 125 (and a possible personal defeat for Charest in Sherbrooke).
Léger also reports 60 per cent of voters are ready for an election even if the Liberals aren't, and 62 per cent want a change of government, compared to only 25 per cent who don't.
And maybe worst of all for the Liberals, they're going into the election on what appears to be a downward trend; Léger suggests support for the Liberals among French-speaking voters has declined slightly since June.
Incidentally, that apparent decline in Liberal popularity in July coincides with a break in disruptive student protests against the tuition increases. Student leaders, take note.
Charest knows by reason what a cornered animal knows by instinct: he is in a fight for his survival in the only real career he has ever had.
And to fight his way out of the corner in which he has placed himself, he must attack, against the student leaders as well as Marois.
But his two main political opponents are just as desperate as Charest.
Marois knows this will probably be her last chance to achieve not sovereignty, but her more personal ambition of becoming Quebec's first woman premier.
And Franßois Legault will be fighting for the survival of his fledgling Coalition Avenir Québec party.
So the three main party leaders can be expected to fight with fang and claw.
The campaign will be relentlessly negative, a natural extension of the last session of the Assembly followed by the partisan tweetfights that have made Twitter resemble a street brawl between drunken supporters of rival European soccer teams.
And the winner will be the one whom the voters deem to be not the best of the three, but the lesser evil.
Don Macpherson is a columnist for the Montreal Gazette.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 J11
(1 of 23 articles for this week)