It’s hard to believe in this era, after more than one hundred days of protests, that Quebec premier Jean Charest was once a serious contender for prime minister of Canada.
He came to national attention in the 1980’s as youthful cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government. He survived the shellacking that party received in the 1993 federal election that brought Jean Chrétien to power. He was returned to Parliament as one half of a two person PC caucus that included Elsie Wayne who was an odious little homophobe and my Member of Parliament while I was in Saint John. You’d think being chained to her for four years would earn him enough karma points for a lifetime.
When the 1995 referendum came along, he became the strongest voice of federalism in Quebec and a serious contender to replace Jean Chrétien. It wasn’t to be, of course. Charest would be the second last leader of the Progressive Conservative Party before it would eventually merge with the Conservative Party of Canada. Charest then jumped the provincial Quebec Liberals where he would soon become premier. At that point, it was evident that he was mainly about power.
I mention all this because I don’t believe Charest is going to survive this which is odd given the national profile he used to hold. It also reinforces my long held belief that the worst job in Canadian politics is Premier of Quebec (second worst is leader of the Parti Québecois). Should Pauline Marois become premier, she’ll have my deepest sympathies, if nothing else. But I don’t believe she will. However dissatisfied people may be with Charest, that has not translated into support for the PQ.
I think the PLQ still has an excellent shot at making government in the next election but Charest’s time as its leader may be at an end. It’s his own doing, of course. He handled the tuition increase plan so badly and Bill 78 is such a draconian, overreaching response to the protests that even many of those who were in favour of the hikes have turned against the government.
So nobody’s particularly happy about the guy and I’ve always felt there’s a natural lifespan for political leaders of about ten years. Charest’s pretty close to that. On OpenFile, Kate McDonnell correctly asks “Down with Charest, Up with Who?”. Let’s say Charest manages to win a fourth mandate, either in a majority or a minority. Either way, I think he may find himself losing support of his caucus. So who would replace him? Finance Minister Raymond Bachand? Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier? Immigration Minister Yolande James? Or perhaps someone form outside the government.
But no election has been called and we’re only watching the pre-election ads now. The latest, showcasing Pauline Marois awkwardly marching in a casseroles demostration is probably an improvement over the deceased spirit of Jean Charest addressing us from Heaven. Clearly, the creativity will only increase once the writ is dropped.