Almost every commentary on Canadian politics seems certain that Québec premier Jean Charest is set to launch a snap election in La belle province in the early autumn — with an announcement as soon as August 1.
Charest, whose Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) has controlled the Québec provincial government since 2003, must call an election before December 2013. But with Québec’s education minister, Michelle Courchesne and its international relations minister Monique Gagnon-Tremblay both announcing that they will step down at the end of the current term of the Assemblée nationale du Québec, and with a politically-charged Charbonneau Commission set to resume hearings on whether Charest’s government awarded government construction contracts in exchange for political financing, speculation is electric that Charest will call an election for early September.
The predominantly French-speaking Québec is Canada’s second-largest province with almost one-quarter of its population, so an election could well have national consequences.
An autumn election would follow a particularly polarizing spring, when student protesters rocked Montréal over a proposed hike in university tuition fees. The tumultuous protests, which hit a crescendo back in May, have already resulted in the resignation of a previous education minister, Line Beauchamp. Although Quebeckers seemed divided fairly equally in sympathy between the government and the student protestors, the battle has essentially cooled off as students depart for the summer. Nonetheless, the government’s decision to enact Bill 78 — which provides that any gathering of over 50 people is illegal unless reported to police in advance — was less popular, leading many voters (not to mention national and international human rights advocates) to decry Charest.
For all of the stability he may have brought to Canadian federalism in the last decade, on the face of it, it would seem a rather difficult time for Charest to win a fourth consecutive mandate. Charest’s Parti libéral recently lost a by-election in June in the riding of Argenteuil in southern Québec, a Liberal stronghold since 1966.
And yet — through all of this — Charest and his Parti libéral are, at worst, even odds to win a fourth term, an electoral achievement unprecedented since the era of Maurice Duplessis and his Union Nationale in the 1940s and 1950s.
Say what you will about Duplessis, his presence is unrivaled in 20th century Québec — he is synonymous with the province’s internal development, a staunch anti-Communist, French Catholic conservative whose rule over Québec was nearly unchallenged for two decades.
Which is to say: Jean Charest is no Maurice Duplessis.
Yet the always-impressive ThreeHundredEight blog’s latest forecast shows Charest’s PLQ with 60 seats to just 55 seats for the more leftist and separatist Parti québécois (PQ). The newly-formed center-right, vaguely sovereigntist Coalition Avenir Québec, meanwhile, would win just 8 seats, and the radical leftist Québec solidaire would win 2 seats.
What can explain Charest’s staying power?
To understand Charest’s career is to understand that his political saga is an “only in Canada” story. Continue reading As snap election looms in Québec, what accounts for the charmless success of Jean Charest?