POLITICS
10/21/2011 06:20 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

Quebec Corruption Inquiry: Will Probe Help Buoy Jean Charest's Flagging Support In The Polls?

In the face of enormous public pressure, Jean Charest has finally called a commission of inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry.

Calling the inquiry was as much of a political risk for the wily premier as it would have been to close his eyes and ears to overwhelming demand.

But the inquiry's limited scope and power will undoubtedly leave many Quebecers disappointed. And with François Legault announcing whether his Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec (CAQ)will become a party on Nov. 14 (it almost certainly will), the inquiry is unlikely to turn the tide that is running against the governing Liberals, if it doesn't sink them entirely.

Public opinion polls in Quebec are a mess at the moment. With Legault's organization not yet a party but already acting like one, the number of people who respond that they will vote for an "other" party when Legault's CAQ is not listed is huge. The most recent poll from Léger Marketing has 14 per cent of respondents saying they intended to vote for another party, pushing Liberal support down to 26 per cent and support for the Parti Québécois to 25 per cent.

If, for some reason, the CAQ is never formed, that 14 per cent will have to go somewhere.

The polls are much clearer when Legault's party is included in the mix. For several months now the CAQ has had more than 30 per cent support in the polls, likely enough to form a government in the increasingly fractured Quebec political scene (with the CAQ, there are six viable parties in Quebec).

The last poll from Léger has Legault’s future party at 36 per cent. With the CAQ on the ballot, the Liberals drop to 22 per cent and the Parti Québécois to only 18 per cent. François Legault also outpaces Charest and PQ Leader Pauline Marois by a wide margin on who is the would be the best premier.

The CAQ leads in every region, though Charest's Liberals hold the edge among non-francophones who are concentrated in areas of Montreal. In all likelihood, the Liberals would hold on to many of their seats on the island while Legault would romp to victory everywhere else.

But Legault’s CAQ does not yet exist as a political party. Though the former PQ cabinet minister has signed up many people to work with him, publicly it is a one-man show. The CAQ is currently only a skeleton, and once it becomes a real party, fleshed out with a fuller platform and 125 candidates, its support among the population will be more clear. The voters it appears to be drawing in now are somewhat contradictory.

For example, the Léger poll indicates that 13 per cent of Liberal supporters and 25 per cent of PQ supporters would opt for Legault. As the CAQ is trying to straddle the line between the two parties, this might not come as a surprise. But the future party, which leans toward the right, also captures 45 per cent of ADQ supporters and 26 per cent of supporters of Québec solidaire. In Quebec, those two parties are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and it seems unlikely the CAQ will be able to please everyone.

So Jean Charest does still have a chance for re-election when Quebecers next go to the polls in 2012 or 2013. One-quarter of respondents said that calling the inquiry would improve their opinion of the Premier, and the CAQ’s support may turn out to be ephemeral. But Legault has the edge and Charest is facing one of his greatest challenges since he first came to power in 2003. Has his luck finally run out?

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.