THE BLOG

If Quebec's Election Was a Carnival, Charest Would Be in the Dunk Tank

09/04/2012 07:45 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST
PC

With rumours of corruption swirling around his party, Jean Drapeau always said the difficulty of a Swiss bank account is proving you don't have one. But Montreal's legendary mayor could afford to joke about the issue because there were never serious accusations that he was personally on the take. His party was another issue. The inquiry into the Olympic games documented contractors handing over cash-stuffed envelopes to Drapeau's civic party. As his eminence grise would say: "Elections are not won with prayers."

As the Quebec election gets down to the wire, Premier Jean Charest has been fighting corruption-Dementors more difficult to exorcise than the creatures tormenting Harry Potter. The premier thought he had put the issue on ice at least until after the election by finally appointing a commission of inquiry into the construction industry. Those hearings are scheduled to begin after the election.

But the new leader of the new third party, the Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) Francois Legault, a Uriah Heep of a leader, caught everyone off guard by unveiling a surprise candidate. He was the former police chief, Jacques Duchesneau who has been making headlines for over a year about crime and kickbacks, especially in the construction industry.

Every time Charest thought he was changing the conversation to Medicare or Le Plan Nord, a visionary development plan for a northern Quebec territory larger than France, Duchesneau would make another accusation and grab the headlines. But last week even his diehard fans thought the ex-police chief went too far. Duchesneau said he had a list of Charest's cabinet ministers who had accepted favours from a construction baron named Tony Accurso.

Charest demanded the ex -cop supply names. The ex-cop played coy and refused. How could Charest possibly defend himself and his party against that kind of slander?

Call me crazy but I always get nervous when the police get involved in election campaigns. Harken back to the 2006 federal election. Paul Martin appeared to be putting the sponsorship scandal behind him as he fought it out with the Conservatives and their new leader, Stephen Harper. Suddenly RCMP Commissioner Giuliiano Zaccardelli announced that the force had launched a criminal investigation into Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale and some hanky panky involving income trusts.

From that moment the Liberal numbers went south. Harper won his minority government and has never looked back. He was careful, however, the morning after the election to make an unseemly trip to RCMP headquarters to thank the the Commish for his timely intervention.

As for the investigation into income trusts, it proved empty. It was dropped. There was nothing to it.

In Quebec the CAQ and the Parti Quebecois are fighting it out as to who can splash the most mud on the Charest Liberals. There is corruption in the way contracts are rigged and awarded in Quebec. It has been so since long before Charest won power. Charest has fought back basically saying, 'don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the Alternative'. Even his worst enemies don't accuse the premier of feathering his own nest.

But there is a feeling this is personal -- and it is. The nationalists have never forgiven the former Tory minister for his sparkling role defeating the yes side in the 1995 referendum. During this campaign, the coverage of Charest on a day-to-day basis is so one sided it is almost sickening. He is treated like a pariah.

In a sense, federalists owe Charest big time. He was drafted to take over the Quebec Liberal party to combat the sovereignity movement. He has kept them away from power for nine years, beating the best the separatists could throw at him. Because he has been so effective, most Canadians thought the separatist movement was dead and buried. Turns out it was only sleeping.

Jean Charest will probably lose his Sherbrooke seat, freeing him at the age of 55, to look onward. How about a new leader of the Conservative party, one who truly fits the Progressive Conservative definition? Let us see now. Mulcair and the NDP beat Harper in the 2014 election. Harper quits, opening the door for one of the most skilled politicians in the nation. Here comes Jean Charest!