Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4

Jean Charest, Québec’s premier since 2003 (pictured above), has dissolved his province’s Assemblée nationale and called a snap election for September 4 — just 33 days away.

His Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) will be seeking its fourth consecutive mandate and Charest will be leading the PLQ for the fifth consecutive time since 1998, when he first left Canadian federal politics for Québecois provincial politics.  He’s been a decade-long fixture of the province’s government, and he starts out the race with even odds at best.

His main opposition is the sovereigntist (and leftist) Parti québécois (PQ), who leader, Pauline Marois, makes Charest look like a star campaigner.

But further to the right is former PQ minister François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a new center-right party formed only earlier this year, will attempt to pull votes from both the PQ and the PLQ.  Further to the left, Québec solidaire will also attempt to pull seats from the PQ and, to a lesser extent, the PLQ.

So what are the starting positions for the parties? Continue reading Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4

Boris Johnson: the real mascot of the 2012 Summer Olympics

Hilarious. This is why Boris Johnson won the mayoral election of London initially in 2008 as a Conservative and was reelected in May 2012, despite a strong Labour wind, defeating former London mayor Ken Livingstone by a 3% margin.

Also, forget the goofy one-eyed blobs, Boris is the true mascot of the 2012 Summer Olympics.  From the minute we saw him waving the Olympic flag at the end of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, with his jacket opened, signalling London’s much looser approach to the Games (compared to the tightly synchronized Beijing Games), you just knew there would be no other way:

He’s rarely on-message (although he can show discipline when he wants).

He’s a bit of a goofy Etonian toff, floppy hair and all, but he’s probably the UK’s most popular politician today, with the possible exception of Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond.

As I’ve noted, he may one day be a British prime minister, as he certainly has more personality than the entire front bench of the current Tory (well, Coalition) government combined.  It’s thought that David Cameron, then just newly enshrined as the new Tory leader, sent Boris off to run for London mayor to get him out of his hair as he plotted the Tories’ own return to Westminster.  But given the current trajectory of Cameron’s government (with many blaming George Osborne’s* austerity policies as the main cause of the UK’s double-dip recession), it is not unthinkable that Boris may well lead the Tories in the next general election cycle or two.

Certainly, the exposure from hosting the 2012 Games will do him no harm (especially given that businessman Mitt Romney transformed his leadership of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City into a stint as Massachusetts governor and into the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012).

H/T to Andrew Sullivan, who calls Boris the “un-Romney”.

* George Osborne serves as chancellor of the exchequer — essentially, the UK’s finance minister.

Indian blackout a metaphor for India’s political, economic and infrastructure growing pains

With some pluck, The Guardian begins an editorial on India’s world-record blackout — nearly 700 million people without power — with the following joke:

Q. What do you call a power failure in Delhi? A. Manmohan Singh.

Womp, womp.  But the joke — and the blackout as a metaphor for India’s governmental and infrastructure impotence — cuts deep.

While authoritarian China pushes onward with so much of the world’s attention, India — a chaotic democracy of 1.2 billion — and its political leadership seem stalled.

As The Times of India writes, dubbing yesterday “Terrible Tuesday,” in “powerless and clueless” India, most of north India — including 684 million Indians — was submerged into a power-less world for the second day, with accusations levied at Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab for over-drawing power.  But that does not hide the fact of India’s antiquated grid system nor the fact of a domestic coal supply that can’t keep up with domestic demand.

On the day of the biggest power failure in, well, human history, power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was promoted to home minister.

As The Times notes:

Moving Sushilkumar Shinde out of the power ministry now is like changing the captain of the Titanic when it’s reeling after hitting a giant iceberg. The country is in the midst of an unprecedented power crisis. For two days in a row, the grid has collapsed. This doesn’t cover Shinde with any glory. Yet he’s promoted as home minister. Even if that’s ignored, what’s pertinent at this point of time is that Shinde is likely to have some clue about the power problem; a new minister – who will be holding additional charge of the portfolio – will possibly have none.

The international view is not much better. The Guardian writes:

Whatever the unadmirable qualities of contemporary British politics, imagine any cabinet minister failing to apologise for presiding over such a first-class foul-up, then being awarded a promotion. Such, sadly, is the typical high-handedness of India’s political classes, who too often lack any sense of obligation to their voters.

It’s a brooding time for India today, with its most recent quarterly growth rate of 5.3% a nine-year low, its eight straight quarterly decline — while the United States or any Western European country would be elated at 5% annual growth, it means a slowdown of alarming proportions for a country that averaged nearly 8% growth in the past decade.

Banyan, The Economist‘s Asia column, points its finger at Coal India — a bloated, state-run disaster that cannot keep pace with demand:

Not enough coal is being dug up by the state monopolist, Coal India. As a result, generating companies, which own power stations, face the prospect of buying expensive imported coal, with ruinous consequences for their finances. Many are in danger of going bust. As this week’s cuts have shown, the national transmission system that shifts power around the country needs modernisation and investment—some $110 billion according to a McKinsey study. And finally the “last mile” local distribution companies, usually state-owned and which deliver power to homes and businesses, are all but bankrupt. Their tariffs are held artificially low by politicians more keen to win votes than balance the books. They have also chronically underinvested.

Tyler Cowen has also been out way ahead in sounding the alarm on India’s economic slowdown, as evidenced in an op-ed in The New York Times just last May, where he pointed to several causes to the slowdown.   Continue reading Indian blackout a metaphor for India’s political, economic and infrastructure growing pains