Charest's calculated risk

Jean Charest has declared war, and it's "us" versus "them."

Will the 'silent majority' rise up for the Liberals?

Charest is banking on the votes of those who didn't take to the streets during the student protest and after the passing of Bill 78. (Graham Hughes/CP)

You'd think the sky was falling.

At virtually every opportunity, Jean Charest has reminded his audience that no less than the core of Quebec democracy is at stake.

That vandals have been allowed to take over the streets for too long. That violence should not – and cannot – be tolerated. That our collective ears are still ringing from all those pots and pans.

He's declared war, and it's "us" versus "them."

As a political strategy, it seems sound.

After all, lots of people are ticked off. For every man, woman or child slamming a wooden spoon into a frying pan, there's a parent trying to put their seven-month-old to sleep, or somebody set to work the graveyard shift trying to get an extra hour or two of shuteye.

Cue: the silent majority

Expect to hear about them a lot. They're the "us" in this fight – all those people who are too overwhelmed, perhaps too afraid, to stand up to those who would use intimidation, violence or vandalism to achieve their goals.

They are who Charest says he's fighting for.

But the context must be clear: for all their efforts, the Liberals have utterly failed to resolve the crisis.

They've tried reducing the yearly tuition increase. They've tried offering up more bursaries. They've tried changing their education minister.

They've tried getting tough, and restricting how protesters protest. At best, it didn't work. At worst, it got people angrier.

Ball in their court

It's one thing to stand up against violence, and to rally people in collective frustration with how long the conflict has dragged on.

But, so far, Charest has been deliberately evasive when it comes to concrete solutions.

He'll fight for the silent majority, but won't tell people how he'll do it.

His doors are always open, but he won't give student leaders any new reasons to walk through.

In a way, it gives the initiative to his adversaries, putting the ball in their court. It leaves it up to them to get people worked up.

Can Pauline Marois capitalize on her new star candidate, Léo Bureau-Blouin?

Can the CAQ actually claim some middle ground for itself, giving voters an alternative to Charest's hard-line stance?

And perhaps most importantly, can student leaders really get peers motivated enough to vote on Sept. 4?

If the threat of upheaval is real, Charest will have to put something new on the table.

And make no mistake: if he hasn't done so already, it's because he means not to.

He's had a lifetime of experience, and he knows how to stay on message. Having to alter that message mid-campaign is not something he'll want to have to do.

Follow Andrew Chang on Twitter @AndrewChangCBC.