The most extraordinary political ad on a day that saw two released was not, I’m sorry to say, the one that contradicts much of my latest column, although that one’s effect will be worth watching. No, the most remarkable ad I’ve seen in ages is this one, from Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberals:
It’s almost a shame they green-tinted it, because there is no other effect or commentary to the thing. There is only Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois out banging casserole lids together, as tens of thousands of Quebecers did every night for weeks. The “message from the Liberal Party of Quebec” is, very simply, that Pauline Marois banged pot lids together. Indeed, Charest’s party says it got the video from the PQ’s own Facebook page, and tonight a few observers told me on Twitter they assumed, at first, that the ad came from the PQ and sought to rally support for Marois.
But Charest is betting everything that when Marois went all in with the tuition protests, she bet wrong. And as Colleague Patriquin has noted, Marois has seemed lately to worry the same thing. Two weeks ago, the PQ laid hands on an internal Liberal Party slide suggesting the “ballot question” (.pdf) for the next election: “Who is the most competent and presents the best team… in a period of grave economic uncertainty?” Charest? Or “Mme Marois and the PQ with a referendum and the street?” It was a few days after they got that slide that the PQ began dropping hints of support for the tuition protesters from their public imagery.
There’s something particular about the way Marois holds the lids, and her chin, in the ad. She does not look like a natural-born rabble-rouser. She looks… well, kind of Montreal. One suspects that helps explain why this scrap of found video excited Charest’s campaign team.
In 2007 Charest faced an urbane, elegant young PQ leader, André Boisclair, in Charest’s first attempt at re-election. Charest ended up watching voters cut his majority to a minority, but it wasn’t Boisclair’s PQ that benefited. It was Mario Dumont’s ADQ that came in second, and the Boisclair PQ was cut to third place for the first time in 30 years. The PQ lost most of its support outside Montreal. There was speculation that it was because he was gay, or that he’d admitted to a few instances of drug abuse in the distant past, but that doesn’t really explain the gradient of support between Montreal and the rest of the province. I think there was just a subtler sense that Boisclair only seemed at home in Montreal.
Support for the protesters is strongest in Montreal, and quite low in Quebec City. If Charest can cement the perception that Marois was busy currying favour with a bunch of big-city oddballs while ordinary Quebecers were worried about their jobs and savings…. Well, even if he can, Charest will have an uphill fight ahead. But he clearly believes part of that fight will involve framing Marois as the kind of Quebecer most Quebecers can’t sympathize with.