Charest says he's here to stay after majority win
Quebec Premier Jean Charest had barely finished lunch the day after his third straight election win and he already found himself defending his appetite to see the term through.
There has been rampant speculation that this might have been Charest's last provincial election, and that if he ever seeks elected office again, it will be upon returning to federal politics.
He was asked during his first post-election news conference Tuesday whether he plans to serve his entire mandate. He avoided a specific answer.
"I think I'm going to stick around a long time and I intend to be here a while," Charest replied.
"I'm very, very happy in what I'm doing and I've worked very hard to get where I am now, and all I can say is I look forward to the next few years."
But Charest, whose Liberals recaptured a slim majority government on Monday, twice avoided offering specifics when asked about his future plans.
Leading up to the vote, pundits and even his rival, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, had been wondering aloud when the former federal politician would ditch his premier's post to pursue old dreams of electoral success in Ottawa.
A third consecutive mandate is a rare feat in Quebec that not even legendary premiers such as René Lévesque, Robert Bourassa and Lucien Bouchard ever managed.
But although those political giants never scored three-peats, they all left indelible legacies, ranging from language laws to hydroelectric expansion and deficit-elimination.
The same cannot be said of Charest just yet.
Political scientists were at pains to point out a Charest legacy item when asked by the Canadian Press to name one Tuesday.
McGill University political scientist Antonia Maioni chuckled when asked what Charest's legacy would be.
She said that if Charest were asked the question himself, he would probably point to his attempts to modernize Quebec's economy with investments in high-tech research and infrastructure.
Lately the premier has been promoting his idea of knocking down trade barriers between provinces, and between Canada and Europe. He has also promised major hydroelectric expansion in Quebec's north.
Charest has given that hodge-podge of projects one unofficial title: a "new economic space" for Quebec.
"He's tried to bring Quebec — kicking and screaming if you will — into the 21st century," said Maioni, the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
After a convincing majority win in 2003, Charest was handed a smaller minority government last year.
His narrower-than-expected majority win on Monday suggests Quebecers still haven't completely cosied up to him, Maioni said.
She said Quebecers are willing to let Charest run the government, but wield only limited power.
"There's something that's not connecting between Jean Charest and Quebecers," she said.
"The baggage — even though he's been in Quebec for many years — is still there, having been transplanted from federal politics. That's a very difficult Rubicon to cross, that Ottawa River, for Quebec politicians."