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Charest gambles on winter vote

by Archives November 11, 2008

Last Wednesday, Quebec Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest closed the books on the 38th National Assembly of Quebec and called an election for Dec. 8.
In defence of his decision, he said the current minority parliament was not working, citing a lack of cooperation from opposition parties. In this election, the Premier is seeking a “clear mandate” and a majority government. Both opposition parties, the Action Démocratique du Québec and the Parti Québécois, had already publicly offered their support to the government and asked the Premier not to call an election.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Charest’s tone was similar to Prime Minister Harper’s when he decided to dissolve parliament and hold a general election last month. The move surely is a gamble, especially considering the precedent on the federal level; Harper’s attempt produced an unchanged balance of power and a disaffected, unenthusiastic electorate. Charest will have to run a very convincing campaign if he hopes to do any better, especially with polls showing this is an election the majority of Quebecers don’t want.
The economy is this election’s main issue, and Charest is hoping to present himself as a strong economic steward in turbulent times. He’s running on his economic record, and a provincial budget surplus. But another aspect of his record might be his biggest challenge; while the Premier has been popular at the head of a minority government his previous majority government was extremely unpopular. Charest is hoping he re-earned a majority over the last year and a half, but if he doesn’t get it his leadership could come under scrutiny.
The Action Démocratique du Quebec, who surprised many when they formed the official opposition in the last election, also have an uphill battle. Since exploding onto the scene in 2007, support for the party has been stagnant at best. Party leader Mario Dumont has been accused, both in the political arena and in the media, of running a one man party and flip-flopping on issues. Recent defections and rumours about infighting could hurt the party’s chances in this election. As well Dumont was a strong supporter of the federal Conservatives in the October election, despite the party’s unpopularity in Quebec.
Looking to bounce back from one of their worst showings in party history, the Parti Québécois is hoping the 2007 election was an anomaly. Relegated to third-party status for the first time in more than 30 years, the party has since changed its leader and its focus. Although the PQ is still fundamentally Quebec-nationalist, sovereignty is not the top priority this time, according to leader Pauline Marois. In this election the PQ are focusing on establishing themselves as the left-of-centre option for Quebecers.
With sovereignty on the back burner and the parties entrenched at different ends of the political spectrum, the PQ on the left, Liberals in the centre and ADQ on the right, this election will be more about issues and policy, but there’s a very good chance Quebec will get an Assembly that looks very much like the one before the election started.

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