Published Aug 27, 2012 in Waterloo Region Record and Guelph Mercury
Change is a four-letter word to politicians in power, something to be resisted, not
For Jean Charest in Quebec, change means fighting from behind, desperately struggling to keep the job he has held for nine long – too long – years. Quebec voters have become bored with Charest and cynical about his Liberals. Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois is no René Lévesque or Lucien Bouchard in the charisma department, but if the polls are to be believed – and I wouldn’t bet my coffee money on it – she will end the Charest era
on Sept. 4, emerging with at least a PQ minority.
For Dalton McGuinty, also too long in office (nine years, just like Charest) change is the nightmare that began last October when Ontarians took away his Liberals’ majority and left him to play brokerage politics with the opposition parties. That’s a high-stakes game that the premier does not play well; too many years with a majority dulled his survival instincts. McGuinty has to hope the nightmare of 2011 has receded enough to let him to regain his majority in the two byelections – Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan – on Sept. 6. His chances of winning both would seem to be somewhere between slim and bleak.
South of the border, President Barack Obama might ordinarily be shoo-in for re-election. The Republicans fielded a bunch of clowns in the primaries (remember the two Ricks, Santorum and Perry, and the flat-tax guy, Ron Paul ?) before settling on the colourless and humourless Mitt Romney, who has to be the least impressive candidate for president since Gerry Ford in 1976 – with the Tea Party darling, Paul Ryan, as Romney’s running mate.
But the desire for change may be profound enough to let the Republican duo win in November. A USAToday/Gallup survey last week showed them in a dead heat with the Democrats in a dozen key battleground states. Ominously for Obama, registered voters in those states, by a 56-40 margin, told the pollsters they are worse off today than they were
when he became president in 2008.
Back to Quebec, where some observers are saying the Charest Liberals could finish third, just as their federal Liberal cousins did last year. This would put them behind both the PQ and François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec – notwithstanding Charest’s vaunted ability as a campaigner.
I was struck by a comment quoted in the Globe and Mail from Cédrick Billequey, a 37-year-old soccer dad and erstwhile Liberal voter in the bellwether riding of Laval-des-Rapides. “What I want is change,” he said. “Mr. Charest has stopped thinking outside the box. Mr. Legault could shake up Quebec, and Quebec needs it.”
When Quebecers last decided to shake things up, in the May 2011 federal election, the orange wave they released carried New Democrats to victory in 59 of the province’s 75 ridings.
In Ontario, McGuinty, unlike Charest, can take comfort in the knowledge that when he wakes up the morning after the voting he will still be premier. He doesn’t have as steep a hill to climb as Charest. He doesn’t have to fight off allegations of corruption in the construction industry spilling over into his party. But the Ontario Liberals do face serious issues of their own – issues that speak more to mismanagement than to corruption.
There’s the $180 million fiasco of the cancelled gas-fueled electrical generating plant in Mississauga; the $1 billion eHealth scandal; and currently the Ornge air ambulance scandal in which the premier is hiding behind his minister of health to avoid appearing before a legislature committee.
The scandals reveal a pattern: a provincial government that is careless with taxpayers’ money, that does not take the trouble to make sure publicly-funded projects are well-conceived and adequately supervised.
Will any of this make a difference to McGuinty’s byelections? Perhaps we’ll get an idea when the major candidates in Kitchener-Waterloo try to shake things up tonight in a public forum sponsored by The Record and its partners.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at