Charest Boisclairs Marois: Paul Wells on an extraordinary ad

Jean Charest is betting that when Pauline Marois went all in with the tuition protests, she bet wrong


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.



Charest Boisclairs Marois: Paul Wells on an extraordinary ad

  1. Good Lord, so this is what Quebec politics has become.

    It is hard to believe that Quebecers would seriously consider choosing a leader who goes out in the streets of Montreal and self-consciously bangs together a couple of pot covers, not for any great principled reason, but because she thinks it will endear her to a bunch of spoiled lugans protesting a mild increase on their subsidized tuition.
    That doesn`t mean she won`t win the next election. Quebecers have shown a tendency to set aside their ability to use common sense when stepping inside a polling booth.

    • “Quebecers have shown a tendency to set aside their ability to use common sense when stepping inside a polling booth.”

      Exactly the way their campaign teams want it.

  2. Thanks for the link, Paul. I’ve got grudging respect for Marois, having seen her in action a decade ago while she was a minister. Yet I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at that ad, a brilliant entry into the attack-ad pantheon. It makes her look like a fool in two completely different ways.

  3. It’s almost a shame they green-tinted it, because there is no other effect or commentary to the thing.

    Makes it look like a clip from an old b&w tv broadcast. Maybe the era when the tuition policy originated?

  4. Great post. I think you’re right. I also think this is a great card to play by Charest. I think he has completely outwitted Marois and the PQ.

    • I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do agree that #1, this ad effectively shines a light on the craven, two-faced approach Marois has taken on the issue, and #2, this ad is likely to elicit a positive response in the people it’s intended to reach (i.e., the majority of Quebecers who aren’t all-in supporters of the student protestors).

      • Yes, well, I think that Marois and the PQ saw large numbers of protests against the government, and blindly assumed it was a good idea to jump right in. In most cases this is likely the right thing to do, but in my opinion, in this case it was the wrong thing to do, for more than one reason:
        1. A clear majority of people did not support the protesters
        2. Young people love to make a lot of noise, but they don’t vote.

        Not only that, but Marois really does look awkward and goofy in the clip.

        I can’t remember the last time the ad for a political party was literally nothing more than a expose showing people what the other party was doing. In this case I think it will work.

  5. Marios looks like she’s away with the fairies – other than green tint, the footage not been altered?

  6. A nice touch might have been highlighting the red square on her coat, making it stand out from the monochrome image, à la Schindler’s List.

  7. Somebody I know observes that she looks as if she’s never handled pot lids before in her life.

  8. The link no longer works.

    • See the blog by Martin Patriquin, posted today, here on this site: it puts the disappearing video into perspective.

  9. If you’re wondering why Charest steps in just as the Pequistes are about to self-destruct… it’s because he wants to keep Montreal-area voters stuck between monopolies. It’s the one provincial voting section that doesn’t scare him in the least.

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