Trouble for Mr. Charest
When Gordon Campbell recently announced his resignation as premier of British Columbia as soon as the governing Liberal party chooses his successor, his Quebec counterpart inherited two titles from him.
Jean Charest now is the dean of Canadian heads of government. And it’s probably not entirely a coincidence that the longest-serving premier, who has been in office for 7 1/2 years, is arguably the most unpopular one as well.
In Angus Reid Public Opinion’s most recent Canadawide survey of the premiers’ approval ratings, conducted in August, only nine per cent of British Columbians expressed approval of Campbell’s performance.
The next-lowest approval rating was Charest’s, at 15 per cent over-all (and 12 per cent among the French-speaking voters who usually decide Que- bec elections).
Like Campbell, Charest is in his third term as premier, though his second term, as head of a minority government, lasted only 21 months.
Each is the head of a province that has not given a premier a fourth consecutive term in more than 40 years.
As well as historical trends and voter fatigue with longtime incumbents, both premiers have had to contend with current issues contributing to their unpopularity.
In B.C., it’s the Campbell government’s harmonization of the provincial sales tax with the federal goods and services tax.
In Quebec, it’s revenue increases in the last provincial budget and allegations of ethical laxity against the government.
And like Campbell before his resignation announcement, Charest has recently shown signs of desperation.
A week before he announced his resignation, Campbell heaved one last, hail-Mary pass with a televised address in which he announced a 15-percent personal income-tax cut, the second-largest in B. C.’s history. When even that failed to distract attention from his unpopularity, he announced his resignation.
And Charest has been courting voters in the Nov. 29 provincial byelection in Kamouraska-Temiscouata as though his political survival depends upon his Liberals holding the French-speaking rural riding.
First he apparently overpaid by more than half a billion dollars in public funds on the contract for new Montreal metro cars to make sure they would be built in the constituency.
Then he “johnny-pandered” the province’s electoral map, scrapping a fairer new one drawn up by a non-partisan commission because it would have eliminated the riding.
But while Campbell and Charest are both still in the first half of their current terms, Campbell was facing a couple of immediate threats that Charest is not.
One is a mandatory leadership review, at a B.C. Liberal party convention in two weeks. Charest doesn’t face a similar confidence vote during his current term, since the Liberals won a majority in the last general election.
But an even more imminent threat to Campbell was a caucus revolt, a rare occurrence in a governing party.
With Campbell’s government holding a 10-vote majority in the legislative assembly, there was a growing movement in the 48-member Liberal caucus to force him to step down.
His recent resignation announcement headed off an emergency caucus meeting the next day at which Campbell’s leadership was to have been discussed in his absence.
In Quebec, however, the rumblings of discontent over leadership have been heard not from the government caucus but that of the Parti Quebecois official opposition. And Charest’s spokesman said Campbell’s resignation hasn’t given Charest any ideas. So he might hold his new titles for awhile.