Quebec Premier Jean Charest is looking for a by-election victory on Monday to close off on a high note what has been a disappointing year for the Liberals marked by a series of setbacks that have undermined voter confidence in the government.
The riding of Bonaventure, in Quebec’s eastern Gaspé region, represents a made-to-measure response to the woes afflicting a government plagued by months of allegations of corruption, favouritism and influence peddling.
The Liberals have represented the riding for all but four years since 1956 and Bonaventure was one of the few predominantly francophone ridings to vote No in the last referendum on sovereignty.
Yet there is no certainty a by-election victory in a Liberal stronghold will be enough to signal a turnaround in party fortunes as the Charest government struggles to overcome province-wide disapproval ratings that have hit all-time highs.
Mr. Charest will carefully weigh his options in the new year and decide whether to call a general election in 2012. Bonaventure may be a factor – although far from a deciding one – in gauging the mood of voters in determining when to hit the hustings.
Another factor could well be the commission looking into corruption in the construction industry led by Madam Justice France Charbonneau of the Quebec Superior Court. The public hearing process will not likely begin until next fall but there are no guarantees testimony behind closed doors won’t eventually be leaked to the media, as was the case lat year during the Bastarache Commission into alleged influence-peddling in the appointment and promotion of provincial judges.
The by-election result will, however, fail to reflect the real dynamics unfolding in Quebec since François Legault’s newly formed Coalition-Avenir-Quebec party, which holds a commanding lead in public opinion polls, decided not to run a candidate in Bonaventure. For Mr. Charest, the CAQ currently represents more of a threat to the Liberal government than the PQ.
But that could change if Parti Québécois chief Pauline Marois fails to fight off the threat against her from dissenting factions within her own ranks. Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe is being tagged as a potential successor and public opinion polls place him ahead of Mr. Legault and Mr. Charest should he become PQ leader.
Should Ms. Marois fail to at least turn the Bonaventure by-election into a close race by tapping into the Liberal government’s misfortunes, the results may reflect even more negatively on her leadership and clear the way once again those calling for her resignation.
That explains why Ms. Marois spent the last four days of the campaign going door to door urging disgruntled voters to send a message to Mr. Charest’s Liberals. She insisted last week that the by-election “was not a test of my leadership.” However her supporters have said privately that strong a performance in Bonaventure would appease dissenting voices while a poor showing would only revive them.