MARTIN PATRIQUIN: God in heaven, Phil. I didn’t think politics in this fair province could get anymore cynical, but there you go. Among the number of scandals cropping up around Jean Charest’s heels these days is the bit about campaign financing.
To wit: the Liberals were alleged to used ‘prête noms’ (other people’s names) in collecting rather large amounts of money for the party. Up until a week ago, Charest was furious–furious!–at the resulting barrage from the PQ, lashing out at Marois for suggesting that the Liberals are corrupt.
Then recently, a change in tack. With a, shall we say, well-timed story from La Presse’s Denis Lessard, which showed Marois herself had used her own children as donation bait, Charest basically said, ‘You see? She’s just as guilty as us.’ And you wonder why people don’t vote.
PHILIPPE GOHIER: That story really should’ve been more devastating to Marois than it turned out to be. It was hardly a dud, but the popular reaction seems to have been somewhat muted. The PQ shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it, though; the fact it didn’t splatter Marois as much as the Liberals had hoped seems to say more about Charest’s government than it does about the viability of the PQ.
All of which brings us to how Charest can get out of this death spiral he’s in. There’s talk he’ll shuffle his cabinet this summer. But his inability to fire Tony Tomassi long after it became clear the family minister was little more than a cheap hack who never should’ve been allowed anywhere near government isn’t a good omen. (The guy had to hold a press conference to announce he was going to start following government protocol for God’s sake!) Charest either doesn’t have the bodies to fill the front benches with competent ministers or doesn’t have the willpower to dispatch the bad ones. Something else, clearly, will be necessary.
So, Bill 103, perhaps? How do you see that debate shaping up? Can Charest paint the PQ into a corner on the new English-language education law?
MP: Let’s get the cheap shot joke out of the way, as far as Pauline Marois is concerned: she lives (or at least lived) in a really, really big glass house–12,000 square feet, to be exact, complete with three fireplaces, heated floors and heli-pad. She isn’t necessarily one to talk about the benefits of having connections, given how that particular house came to be. (The Gazette’s William Marsden wrote an extensive piece on it here.) It makes Marois’ white-scarf tour de virtuosité really hard to swallow.
I don’t think the Marois donation mini-scandal, in which both her children and her husband donated to her leadership campaign, stuck largely because it wasn’t really all that dodgy. Sure, it’s weird if your unemployed (or barely employed) kids, along with your husband and a baker’s dozen members of your extended family, kick in a few grand each to la patronne’s campaign. But it’s family. It’s not, say, the secretary from an engineering firm that happens to be friendly with your party. This campaign donations stuff continues to stick to Charest, largely because it’s just part of the pile, along with allegations of favouritism in the selection of judges and provincial daycare allotments (the latter is, not incidentally, a license to print money) to the construction industry.
Which is why I think there is something to your ‘death spiral’ comment. There comes a point when the swamp simply becomes too wide and too deep to crawl out of. That said, it is always worth remembering that the Liberal Party of Quebec is a party of power. Ideology doesn’t matter unless pragmatism dictates it. If Charest is seen as being too mired in the swamp for too long, then Charest is left in the swamp–or, at the very least, transported to the swank confines of an appropriate board of directors posting. Or, you know, to the head of the Conservative Party. (You read it here first! Or not!) I’d venture to say that quiet power of this fair province, Liberal au bout, aren’t opposed to having a PQ government flail about in power for four years in all its gong-show glory, tearing itself apart trying to sell something the majority of the Quebec people truly don’t want, only to swoop in to the rescue with a star candidate down the road.
In the short term, I don’t think the Liberals can make any gains with Bill 103, far as votes/support is concerned. Anyone who can a) pay for three years of private education; and b) has the desire to send their kid to English school is likely to vote Liberal anyway. What the Liberals can do is play the extremist card. Yesterday, Marois had to backtrack from a motion within her own party that would apply Bill 101 to CEGEP. That is to say, students going into CEGEP (the one or two years after high school), many of whom are over the age of 18, couldn’t go to in the language of their choice. Marois is apparently allergic to the idea, as she should be, yet it keeps bubbling up. Expect the Liberals to harp on it in the coming days.
PG: Sure, I might have read it here first (even if I didn’t) that Charest could land in Ottawa with a push from the party in Quebec—I still think it’s complete lunacy to believe it. For one thing, Charest, for better or worse, is the Liberal Party in Quebec. With Monique Jérome-Forget, Philippe Couillard, Yves Séguin and every other frontline MNA out of the picture, Charest is the lone face of his government. The party knows this, too: show me one person who legitimately believes Charest ranks among the province’s “grands bâtisseurs” and I’ll show you someone looking for a construction contract. But that didn’t stop the Liberals from celebrating him as such.
Simply put, seven years of power hasn’t been kind to the Liberals and they’re starting to find themselves on the wrong side of every issue. With the last budget, when it became clear Charest’s pitch to actually reform provincial institutions wasn’t going anywhere, his government resorted to simply asking Quebecers to pay more for them; on identity matters, it was content to cave to the anti-niqab crowd without much of a fight; and after presumably assuming it could coast through a third term just making spending announcements, the government hasn’t been able to offer even a modest guarantee the money won’t end up in the mob’s hands. It all adds up to a record of devastating ineptitude.
The Liberals may very well think they’ll be able to coast back into power after a hypothetical Marois government commits some as-yet-undetermined flub that makes her look like a raging extremist. But I’m not so sure. Just ask the federal Liberals, who’ve spent the past six years convincing themselves a return to government is just around the corner.