Quebec Premier Jean Charest can take little comfort from his parliamentary victory in a Wednesday non-confidence vote. For the public's lack of confidence in its officials is palpable. Mr. Charest needs to bring real vigour to the effort of cleaning up the relationship between the province's builders and its politicians.
The government has acted on one explosive allegation. It called an inquiry after former justice minister Marc Bellemare said he had been pressured to make three judicial appointments by Liberal fundraisers and Mr. Charest, who he said were in the pockets of construction-industry executives who were major party donors.
The crisis, though, has metastasized. The construction industry's alleged use of political intermediaries to win expensive contracts has affected the refurbishment of Parliament Hill buildings, a federal responsibility. Mayors and ministers have had to resign their municipal or provincial posts after being implicated in scandals involving contracting or political donations. Even an investigator has been allegedly connected to political sleaze. Jacques Duchesneau, until recently the head of Opération Marteau, the anti-collusion unit of Quebec's Transport Ministry, has stepped aside temporarily.
There was undoubtedly some political opportunism around calling a non-confidence vote. And Quebeckers have some reason to be hopeful. An investigation by Le Devoir found that in the past year, construction firms not associated with the scandals have been winning a greater share of municipal and provincial contracts.
But the political taint remains. Mr. Charest says he recognizes the problem, but has not convinced Quebeckers that he is doing anything about it. In recent polling, 75 per cent agreed that "Quebec is a corrupt province" and the party of choice for a plurality was an imaginary, as-yet non-existent right-wing party.
Unlike the sponsorship scandal, the problem is not limited to one party, one fund or one level of government. Mr. Charest does not need to don a hair shirt like the one worn by former prime minister Paul Martin when he launched the Gomery Inquiry. This is about more than saving Mr. Charest's own government. It is the trust of Quebeckers in their political class that needs to be redeemed, and only Mr. Charest is in a position to accomplish that.