MONTREAL - In the midst of a social crisis, Premier Jean Charest is replacing his most senior aide and bringing back a right-hand man with a reputation for steady competence.
The premier's chief of staff has resigned and is being replaced by Daniel Gagnier, who is being brought back to his old position after three years away from politics.
Gagnier is being given a mandate to kick-start negotiations with student groups and seek a resolution to the unrest plaguing the province, before tourists flock to Montreal for festival season.
He has previously been a high-ranking civil servant in Ottawa and Saskatchewan and was also chief of staff to former Ontario premier David Peterson. Outside politics, he has worked in mining, the shale gas industry, clean energy and university governance.
His previous stint in the premier's office coincided with an era when Charest was at his most popular — from 2007 to 2009.
At a time when Charest had a tenuous hold on power, Gagnier left a senior position at Alcan to work with him and he remained with the premier while he led a minority government; he left after Charest won another majority.
Since Gagnier's departure, the Charest government has been consistently rocked by ethics scandals and now by the student-led unrest. An election is expected within months.
The Canadian Press has learned that Gagnier has already been heavily involved in the student file in recent weeks, having offered his help as a volunteer.
He replaces Charest's previous senior aide, Luc Bastien, who has stepped down.
The government said Bastien's departure was unrelated to the ongoing unrest.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with the conflict," said Charest spokesman Hugo D'Amours.
"Mr. Bastien had clearly indicated when he took the position that he would be there for a limited time. He simply decided to pass the torch. It all happened on good terms."
But the opposition quipped that, after the resignation of education minister Line Beauchamp, it was starting to resemble an end-of-reign exodus.
One prominent MNA expressed the hope that Gagnier's talents would be put to use for noble reasons — not just for the strategic benefit of the Liberal party.
Charest has often been accused by his rivals, and by some pundits, of letting the conflict escalate over the months because there might be a political benefit in his Liberals taking on the students.
But MNA Pierre Curzi said he hopes Charest's office will now put the interests of Quebec before those of his party and really work on finding a solution.
"Mr. Gagnier has the reputation of being a good strategist and a very smart man," said Curzi a well-known actor and former Pequiste, who now sits as an Independent.
"But if his arrival here is about coming up with crafty tricks, I think we've moved beyond that."