You will have Jean Charest to kick around

Jean Charest says the exact opposite of what everybody has been thinking, swears up and down that he’s going to stick around these fine parts for a fourth mandate.

I’ll let CBC set up his dramatic [sic] declaration, which he made in a one-on-one interview with the network’s Tim Duboyce:

Many political observers have been predicting Charest will try to return to Ottawa after more than 12 years on the provincial scene, given his public appeal and recognition factor nationally.

But when asked whether he still had his sights set on 24 Sussex Drive, Charest was blunt.

“No,” he replied without hesitation. “I have a great job that I enjoy. … It took me a long while to get to where I am, so I’m very happy where I am.”

Charest has won the last three general elections in Quebec, including the most recent vote in 2008, which returned him to majority power after 18 months running a precarious minority government — the first in the province in more than 100 years.

The premier said that not only does he intend to remain in provincial politics, but that he’ll also seek another term.

“I’ve done four elections in Quebec, including the one in ’98,” he said, referrring to his only provincewide loss as Quebec Liberal leader. “In all four elections, I won a plurality of the votes. Four consecutive elections.

“I think five is a good number.”

With all due respect, Mr. Premier, you speak an untruth. Five is a great number. Jackson 5 Jurassic 5. MC5. Need I say more?

But I digress. I’m sure being Pauline Marois’ pinata is a dream job, as is having to spend roughly a third of  your only long form English-language interview in years assuring the world that “there is no scandal.” Quebec, as Charest rightly points out, is doing quite well, economically-speaking.Why depart for friggin’ Ottawa when the view is so nice in Quebec City? Not him, he makes it clear.

Now, I have no doubt about Mr. Charest’s sincerity. What I’ve said about the tenacity of Pauline Marois at the helm of the PQ is true for Jean Charest and Quebec in general. Leading this province is a very difficult job, particularly if you are a federalist, and the fact that he’s remained boss for long says as much about his instincts as it does about his hide.

Except that he’s sounded just as sincere 12 years ago, when everybody and their cat was begging Charest to leave the Progressive Conservative Party (R.I.P.) to head up the recently decapitated Quebec Liberal Party. “We should never put ourselves in the position where the future of the country depends on one individual,” Charest said in a warmly received speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. “This country is a lot more resilient than that. It will survive Jean Charest. It will even survive Jean Chretien.”

Here’s another:

“Of all the questions I have been asked the last few days . . . I am reminded why I made that choice in 1993,” Charest said in March 1998. “It’s because we in this country need a national political party able to include every part of Canada.”

A month later, was leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.

Given the precedent, I wonder: is Mr. Charest’s current “I’ll-be-in-Quebec-City-forever” routine another head fake? Is he fishing for some sort of offer/exit strategy from Ottawa?