Jean Charest has now completed his cycle of three debates against the other party leaders. Once again he showed himself to be a skilled debater strongly defending himself against attack and inflicting some damage of his own on his opponents. Of course, one’s judgement depends upon one’s perception which is heavily influenced by one’s own values and preferences. But from my perspective Charest effectively showed why for most voters in Québec, Madame Marois is overly obsessed with sovereignty, referendum, divisive cultural policies and unpleasant identity politics. With respect to François Legault, who was much more polite than Marois, Charest was able to plant seeds of doubt about improper fund raising in the past by one of his star candidates Jacques Duschenau in a previous 1996 campaign for mayor of Montréal. He also raised important questions about Legault’s reliability as a federalist and the internal logic and financial coherence of his policies.
On the federalist front Legault had a good counter citing the Quiet Revolution of the nationalist Liberal politician Jean Lesage whose own cabinet when he was premier in the 1960s included René Lévesque the first leader of the PQ and Eric Kierans, later a leadership canidate for the federal Liberals and member of the cabinet of the first government of Pierre Trudeau .
Legault argued that he was fashioning himself in this Lesage mould. It is a legitimate point and certainly Robert Bourassa like Legault was a conditional federalist. But unlike Legault, neither Lesage nor Bourassa were Parti Québecois cabinet ministers. Legault had some interesting ideas about educational reform and lowering Québec’s appalling high school drop out rate which deserve serious consideration but they will be undermined by the sort of budget slashing he wants to undertake. All in all then I thought Charest did a good job given the difficult situation he is in . Marois , on the other hand overplayed her sovereignist cards.
In fact, she may well have gone too far even with some of her own supporters.The latest poll from Forum research relying on a telephone survey of 1600 Québecers shows the PQ losing ground to the Liberals with some of their support leaking away to Québec Solidaire. The poll, one of a series to appear in the next few days shows the Liberals at 35 %, the PQ at 29 %, the CAQ at 24 % and Québec Solidaire at 9 %. If this holds up in other polls then the Liberals will win a strong minority and possibly a small majority government. However, for the moment its a single poll and we need more information from other surveys.