The second week of the Quebec election campaign put up more road blocks to Jean Charest's re-election, in what is becoming a three-way race.
The issue of corruption did not go away, dominating the news cycle for the first half of the week. At first things appeared to be turning against the CAQ, as star candidate Jacques Duchesneau claimed he would have a role in choosing the government's ministers (quickly corrected by party leader François Legault) and criticisms of him by the Liberals and Parti Québécois were made. But Duchesneau remains an important part of the CAQ campaign, as he was given almost as much air time as Legault in the party's first television ad.
Then a report by Radio-Canada, claiming a tailing operation was halted after the subject of the police's attention met with Charest at a public event, sent a jolt through the campaign. Though the report contained no proof of a direct link between the two incidents, it did little to help Charest shake off the public's perception the government is corrupt.
Further complicating matters for the Liberals is that the student protests over tuition fee hikes have failed to become an important issue. The resignation of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the main figures of the more radical CLASSE student group, removed an easy target from the equation. With some schools starting classes this week, there so far appears to be little of the turmoil the province witnessed in the spring. For the Liberals, who planned to campaign on law and order, this throws a wrench into their electoral strategy.
The strategy they have adopted mimics the one used with success by the federal Conservatives, as detailed in a report by Le Devoir over the weekend. Both the Liberals and CAQ have focused on simple, easy-to-grasp promises made early in the day. For the Liberals, these include $100 for parents with children in elementary school, a renovation tax credit and help with dental costs. The CAQ has promised tax cuts, paid holidays for parents and longer school hours.
This strategy has caught the Parti Québécois somewhat flat-footed. Pauline Marois spent some of last week in eastern Quebec, shoring up support in a region that is more difficult to fit into a late campaign schedule. She did not make as many pointed announcements as her adversaries.
But two polls released at the end of the week changed the conversation, as they both put the PQ ahead by a narrow margin. The CAQ appeared to be making gains, meaning Charest and Marois turned their attacks towards Legault. This may have the effect of slowing his momentum, but it also increases the perception Legault is a serious player in the election.
However, the Liberals appear vulnerable. Charest was even pegged to be trailing by 15 points in his own riding. As a result, focus has been turning more to the fight between the PQ and the CAQ among the francophone electorate, a battle that could decide the election.
If the CAQ continues to make gains in the polls there is no telling which party might sink. The PQ risks losing support to the CAQ if it looks like Legault has better chances of defeating Charest, while the Liberals could lose votes to the CAQ if the party is seen as the best anti-PQ option. Nevertheless, after two weeks the Parti Québécois still holds the advantage.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
Jean Charest Facts
Here's a look at Jean Charest's life and career.
Law degree from Universite de Sherbrooke.
Elected as Conservative MP for Sherbrooke in 1984 and served there until 1998; became youngest federal minister in Canadian history in 1986, as minister for youth, but had to resign in 1990 after improperly calling a judge about a case; returned to cabinet as environment minister in 1991; deputy prime minister from June 25, 1993, until Nov. 3, 1993; leader of federal Progressive Conservative party from 1993 to 1998; became leader of Quebec Liberal party in 1998 and Quebec premier in 2003. Re-elected with minority government in 2007 and majority in 2008. He resigned as leader of the Quebec Liberals in 2012 after losing to the PQ in the provincial election.
Married, with three grown children.
Admitted to Quebec bar in 1981.
''I can't be any clearer. Sovereignty is no longer on the table. The Coalition avenir Quebec will never promote Quebec sovereignty. Is that clear enough?' <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/facts-about-caqs-francois-legault-in-his-first-campaign-as-a-party-leader-164601676.html" target="_hplink">Source: Canadian Press</a> <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault responds to reporters questions following a party caucus meeting Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City. </em>
Bachelor's degree in business administration and master's in business administration, both from l'Ecole des hautes etudes commerciales (HEC). <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault, centre, calls on a candidate to come and join them as he and other candidates stand in front of his campaign bus in Quebec City on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Legault unveiled his campaign bus and the slogan for the expected provincial election. </em>
Auditor with Ernst & Young from 1978 to 1984; co-founded Air Transat in 1986. <em>Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, comments Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City on the ongoing conflict with students over tuition hikes. </em>
Elected to legislature in 1998 as member of Parti Quebecois; minister of commerce and industry in 1998; minister of education from 1998 to 2002; minister of health in 2002 and 2003; finance critic from 2003 to 2009; co-founded Coalition avenir Quebec in 2011.Personal: Married with two children. <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault waves as he walks out of his campaign bus in Quebec City on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Legault unveiled his campaign bus and the slogan for the expected provincial election. </em>
Elected to legislature in 1998 as member of Parti Quebecois; minister of commerce and industry in 1998; minister of education from 1998 to 2002; minister of health in 2002 and 2003; finance critic from 2003 to 2009; co-founded Coalition avenir Quebec in 2011.Personal: Married with two children. <em>CAQ leader Francois Legault responds to questions as he introduces candidates for the upcoming Quebec elections during a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. </em>
"Rather than being a distinct province, we would prefer that Quebec become a normal country." <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/facts-about-parti-quebecois-leader-pauline-marois-164599816.html" target="_hplink">Source: Canadian Press</a> <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois makes a speech for the announcement of new candidates, during a press conference held at Montreal on July 31, 2012. </em>
Bachelor's degree in social services from Universite Laval; master's in business administration from l'Ecole des hautes etudes commerciales in Montreal. <em>Pauline Marois, chief of the Parti Quebecois speaks to the supporters after the elections results announced at Olympia theater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on December 8, 2008. Liberal Premier Jean Charest won a majority in Quebec elections Monday, spoiling a separatist comeback with a mandate to bolster the Canadian province's slowing economy, said television predictions. </em>
Social services administrator from 1971 to 1979; political attache for PQ in 1978 and 1979; university professor, 1988. <em>Pauline Marois, chief of the Parti Quebecois speaks to her supporters after the elections results announced at Olympia theater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on December 8, 2008. Liberal Premier Jean Charest won a majority in Quebec elections Monday, spoiling a separatist comeback with a mandate to bolster the Canadian province's slowing economy, said television predictions. </em>
First elected to legislature 1981; named to cabinet in 1982 as minister for status of women; ran for PQ leadership in 1985, losing to Pierre Marc Johnson; served in various senior cabinet positions in PQ governments from 1994 to 2003, including finance (1995-1996, 2001-2002), health (1998-2001); deputy premier (2001-2003); ran for PQ leadership in 2005, losing to Andre Boisclair; acclaimed as PQ leader in 2007; became leader of Official Opposition following 2008 provincial election. <em>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois makes a speech for the announcement of new candidates, during a press conference held at Montreal on July 31, 2012. </em>
Married to Claude Blanchet, former head of Quebec government's investment arm. They have four children. <em>Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois stands outside her bus as she launches her campaign in Quebec City on Wednesday, August 1, 2012. Marois held a news conference before Premier Charest officially called an election. </em>