While Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s popularity has dwindled to record lows in his home province, with 74 per cent of voters now saying they would gladly turf his government from office, the story in the rest of Canada couldn’t be any more different.
A Léger Marketing poll taken earlier this month found Charest was the second most popular choice among a list of potential candidates to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the federal Conservatives. Only Peter MacKay, who had the support of 17 per cent of respondents, proved more popular than Charest, who at 13 per cent was the only other candidate to make it into double digits. Stockwell Day and Jim Flaherty were a distant third at eight per cent each.
When he left federal politics in 1998, Charest’s Progressive Conservatives held a mere 20 seats in Parliament. Charest hasn’t hinted at a possible return, but if he did go back, the Léger poll found Canadians would welcome him with open arms. Despite trailing MacKay in personal popularity, the data suggests that if a federal election were held today, Charest is the only candidate who’d beat the Liberals across Canada—even in Quebec. “Though Quebecers are having a tough time with Charest at the moment,” says Léger Marketing vice-president Christian Bourque, “the Conservatives would be better off in Quebec if he was the alternative to the federal Liberals.” Elsewhere, voters in the Atlantic provinces (52 per cent), Ontario (50 per cent) and B.C. (37 per cent) held especially favourable views of Charest, which Bourque attributes to Quebec’s break with Ottawa on issues like the environment.
Charest’s reputation as a staunch federalist accounts for much of his popularity in English Canada, says Université de Montréal political scientist Bruce Hicks. But so too do his bona fides as a more centrist politician than many of the key figures in the Harper government. “What the poll reflects,” Hicks says, “is the fact the old Progressive Conservative party is closer to where Canadians are than the new Conservative party.”