The incumbent Liberal Premier has a knack for slipping on political banana peels. His two rivals in the opposition are younger men trying to shake off their image as callow, uninspiring party leaders.
As a result, the buzz this weekend in Quebec was a poll showing that former Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard would handily win the next election if he returned to politics for a right-wing party such as Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec.
A reflection of Quebeckers' lack of enthusiasm for their politicians, the talk about Mr. Bouchard underlines the fickleness of a population weighing its options in a post-sponsorship scandal context.
"People are ready to look elsewhere," said University of Sherbrooke political scientist Jean-Herman Guay. "The electorate is volatile, so much so that it is a purely hypothetical party that's catching on."
Mr. Dumont told reporters this weekend he wouldn't publicly ask Mr. Bouchard to step out of his "devoir de reserve," the discretion expected of ex-premiers.
However, in the same breath, Mr. Dumont said he wanted to build "a coalition for change, a coalition that will be wide open to all Quebec leaders who would want to join in."
Yesterday, he justified his constitutional gambit by saying that "there is a new horizon of openness" with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
Mr. Harper is doing well in Quebec. A Léger Marketing poll had 70 per cent of Quebec respondents being satisfied with his performance. And a CROP poll had Conservative support in Quebec at 34 per cent, neck and neck with 31 per cent for the Bloc Québécois.
"It'll probably be easier for Stephen Harper to get 30 more seats in Quebec than gaining 30 more seats in Ontario," Prof. Guay, explaining why Mr. Harper is courting Quebeckers assiduously and why both Mr. Dumont and Premier Jean Charest are trying to ride the Prime Minister's coattails.
Lucien Bouchard's silent abandonment of the separatist cause has not gone unnoticed in Quebec; the man whose efforts and charisma came within about 50,000 votes of making him the first president of an independent Quebec now can't be bothered to say a kind word for the cause at all, let alone the Bloc Quebecois that he founded.
If he's returning to his Conservative origins, he will have come full circle, but Quebec will have turned 180 degrees from statism and separatism to conservatism and federalism.
Perhaps, then, the 1995 referendum really was the high water mark for the separatist cause.
Source: Globe and Mail