Jean Charest and his Liberals have been a relatively good government for the past nine years, but it is time for that province to elect a new Premier with a new agenda. Charest has done many things that are positive.
His Quebec North policy is the right thing for Quebec. Canada is a small country, with a very limited home market of just over 30 million people. For small countries like this, with such a small consumer platform, it is difficult to build and maintain a strong economy. A country like the USA, with over 300 million, or the EU, with slightly more, has a better chance of internal demand being high enough to sustain the formation and growth of strong companies and good jobs.
China, with its billion people, has a potential consumer platform of significant size, assuming – the jury will be out on this for a decade or more – that it takes the right steps to stimulate a domestic market.
For Canada – including Quebec – to ensure its economic future, the development of products that the larger world market needs and wants is essential. Boosting resources for export (oil, including the tar sands oil, gas, wood, minerals) is a must, as it is very difficult to build a sustainable manufacturing economy on a small population platform.
Even Germany, with twice our population, struggles to maintain its existing manufacturing base.
So the development of the resources in the north of Quebec is a worthy vision, and Charest must be complimented on this.
Offsetting this positive vision are three grave errors that the Charest government has committed, and which should lead to its replacement by a new government next week.
Firstly, Charest has failed to maintain support amongst a substantial portion of the Francophone voters. With levels of support of around 20%, his government no longer speaks for the bulk of Quebec’s voters. Quebec deserves a government more representative of the majority of its population.
Secondly, Charest miscalculated badly over the student university fees issue. He could have set out a policy which provided free education for students who qualified for university or college admittance. This is justifiable in a country that gives hundreds of millions of support to corporations in order to allow them to build their business assets. Funding advance education for citizens is in the same category: an investment in the country’s assets which will be of immeasurable benefit to all for decades to come.
Instead, Charest chose to charge more for university attendance, and then stepped into an area he should never have ventured into: he came close to denying Quebecers the basic right of assembly. This was one step too far towards totalitarianism, and should rightfully be punished on Tuesday by the voters.
Our rights as citizens should not lightly be tampered with by our elected politicians, no matter how stressful governing our political spaces becomes.
Finally, Charest turned a blind eye to the rumours of corruption that have swirled around Quebec government levels of all kinds for some kind. He saw the Martin federal Liberal government implode over the corruption commission, and seemed to draw the conclusion that a ‘light touch’ approach might delay the inevitable. But this was a wrong guess, and a big part of next week’s vote will be cast based on the whiff of corruption. We have a right to expect our elected representatives to obey our laws, and prevent corruption in our public affairs.
Quebec would be better served to elect Francois Legault and the Avenir Quebec as the next government.
Legault offers a government which will declare a truce of 10 years on discussions of sovereignty, and instead concentrate on other matters.
Despite being framed as a man who changes his mind all the time (a baseless charge when you consider the facts versus the framing), Legault offers the chance to Quebec of a replacement government that will focus on matters of concern to that province’s citizens, rather than trying to score points through pointless constitutional wrangling.
Come Tuesday night, I would not be at all surprised if Legault does a Jack Layton come-from-behind surge up the middle to become the next premier.