Only option after disappointing four years
As the Quebec election campaign heads into its final weeks, several trends are apparent. Firstly, the Parti Québecois under André Boisclair is losing support. His leadership has underwhelmed Quebecers. He is no René Lévesque. He comes across as intellectually arrogant, stiff, inexperienced and not the kind of person you would entrust your life savings to.
Some have supported that party and its option because of the commitment and inspiration of the men and women who run it. Boisclair's failure to connect is giving some who support an independent Quebec pause for second thought. This is a positive development for those among us who believe that Canada, a work in progress, is worthy of support. The PQ will not disappear, but it is heading for another four years in opposition, where they can actually play a useful role.
Secondly and simultaneously, Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec appears to be making inroads, at least in the polls. Still, his small group is not making significant gains in the Montreal metropolitan area, the motor of Quebec's economic and intellectual life. And many reports indicate Dumont may be in trouble in his own riding of Rivière du Loup. His so-called autonomist position does not make us forget that in 1995 he was part of the Lucien Bouchard-Jacques Parizeau triumvirate that almost lost us our country. He believes a bit too strongly in two-tiered health care, and his party is too conservative to merit the support of those of us who believe the state has a key role to play in protecting the weak and in re-distributing income.
All of this bring us to Jean Charest and the Liberal Party of Quebec. All signs are pointing to a second mandate for them, but it will not be because of satisfaction with the way they have run the province.
True, some headway has been made in health care. Lest we forget that under the PQ cancer patients were being sent to upstate New York for chemotherapy and radiation treatment because we “early-retired” too many health-care professionals. That is a thing of the past. Everybody is promising to reduce wait times for surgery, but it's a question of trust. Which party that has a chance of winning the election is most likely to manage the economy so that health care gets the priority it deserves? We believe the Liberals are best positioned to do it. This is not a blanket endorsement. We question Charest's siding with the Quebec Human Rights Commission when it awarded $10,000 to an ambulance driver who ignored signs and brought outside food to a kosher cafeteria at the Jewish General Hospital. We question Charest's support for the referee who refused to allow a female Muslim soccer player from Ontario to wear head covering during a tournament. We wonder what happened to his courageous objective to move away from the costly Quebec model and attack our $118 billion debt, eating away at the province's revenues. It costs $7 billion a year to service the debt, severely limiting government action.
On the plus side, we do welcome his decision to raise university tuition fees, now the lowest in Canada by far, by $100 a year over the next five years. And we applaud the decision to hire 1,500 more doctors.
But this does not make up for a lackluster four years. In that context, we understand and sympathize with those voters who will park their ballots with the Green Party, with its laudable stress on protecting our imperiled environment.
We also sympathize with those who will vote for the leftist Québec Solidaire coalition, who are committed to defending the interests of workers and the unemployed, students, and welfare recipients. However, neither stands much chance of winning a seat. This leaves us with our only alternative, a Liberal government led by Jean Charest, with a strong opposition and vigourous press to ensure vigilance and debate.