Philippe Couillard is a lucky man. After two years of harsh budget cuts and economic hardship, the Liberal Premier of Quebec should be in deep political trouble.
But the opposition parties are preoccupied these days; they're much busier fighting among themselves in new and entertaining ways.
Yes, there has been pushback against the budget cuts in the past year. Parents formed human chains around schools and child-care centres, and there was a protest against cuts affecting the neediest kids. The province has to live within its means, Quebeckers were told. Nonetheless, $1-billion was "invested" to rescue Bombardier's aeronautics division. And Quebec doctors have not only caught up with the national average in compensation, but surpassed the pay of their Ontario colleagues. Not too bad for a poor province.
And it's true that Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau scored some points last fall for attacking the Bombardier deal. You would expect that business matters would be his forte. But the Opposition Leader has failed to create any kind of excitement about his party.
His first problem is independence fatigue. To reinvigorate and rejuvenate the movement, Mr. Péladeau wants to create an independent "research institute" on sovereignty, an idea first raised last year. Privately funded, the think tank would produce papers to demonstrate secession's "concrete" pluses and federalism minuses, explained law professor and former PQ MNA Daniel Turp.
The institute is to be launched in the next few weeks and it is said that Mr. Péladeau would personally donate a "substantial" amount to it.
This leads to PKP's two other problems: first, the competition with the other opposition party, the "nationalist but not separatist" Coalition Avenir Québec; and second, Mr. Péladeau's style.
When the possibility of a personal Péladeau donation surfaced, CAQ Leader François Legault wondered whether money collected for the institute might contravene rules governing political parties' financing. For the CAQ, this supposedly independent institute would be nothing less then a front for the PQ, producing intellectual ammunition for its raison d'être.
Mr. Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister, attacks the idea of secession as a passé fantasy. After rebranding his party as strongly nationalist, he has recruited a few PQ apparatchiks lately and pretends to be on the verge of recruiting some disgruntled PQ members of the National Assembly.
Mr. Péladeau responded with a good old summons, threatening to sue his political rival if Mr. Legault didn't retract his allegations. After all, there are federalist think tanks in which high-profile Liberals are involved, such as the privately funded L'idée fédérale, which is devoted to producing papers promoting the virtues of federalism.
Liberal House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier suggested the PQ Leader was doing some "legal bullying." (On Wednesday, Mr. Péladeau also threatened to sue Mr. Fournier over comments he made about the proposed institute.) Mr. Fournier has worked hard to paint Mr. Péladeau in the public mind as an angry millionaire, and the PQ chief has softened his image of late, though there are reports of friction between his aides and his chief of staff, Pierre Duchesne.
The Liberals, meanwhile, are having a lot of fun, enjoying a smooth winter ride.