Jean Charest, like all the other party leaders, has released his program, explained how much he thinks it would cost and how long he hopes it would take to implement.
It’s centered on 250,000 new jobs in five years, indexation of affordable daycare, a thousand more GPs to help ensure Quebecers can all lay claim to a family doctor.
Now, it’s time to sell it. These last few days of the campaign are less about communicating directly with the general public, and more about convincing Liberal disciples of the merits of the Liberal plan.
At every whistle stop between now and next Tuesday, Charest will get up and make nearly the same 15 minute stump speech in an attempt to impart one-liners (François Legault is the only person in Quebec who can go to Jean Coutu and find no friends), risks (Pauline Marois would take the economy we’ve worked to rebuild and throw it out the window with another referendum) and the record (this Liberal government delivered the goods, and now it’s time to continue).
The hope is Liberal supporters retain it all and go out and repeat it often enough to persuade fence-sitting voters Charest deserves another turn in power.
The uphill climb
The Liberal leader has faced an obvious uphill climb from the outset of the campaign.
Being in power for more than nine years brings with it baggage.
Notwithstanding the allegations of corruption and influence-peddling, calling the shots for so long means Jean Charest has the only record of decision-making that matters.
'Charest is focusing on the one last advantage in his arsenal: the big, red, Liberal election machine.' — Tim Duboyce
If your problems haven’t been fixed by now, it’s Jean Charest’s fault. If what Quebec really needs is a healthy dose of political renewal, it’s because the Liberals have been in power long enough.
So, the hope is a few funny one-liners and a couple of knock-out punches can go a long way.
But, as things seem to be moving in this campaign, it won’t go far enough.
Which is why Charest is focusing on the one last advantage in his arsenal: the big, red, Liberal election machine.
What is that machine? It’s not a bunch of levers, gears, cables, and motors. It is people. The very people who come out to Liberal stump speeches during an election campaign every lunch hour, and every evening after work.
They are the people who go out and repeat the leader’s message, at the office, across the backyard fence, at church.
And, on election day, they are the people who go pick up your grandmother at the nearby seniors’ home and take her to a polling station to vote.
Multiply that effort by the thousands across the province and it is a factor that makes a difference, especially in closely-fought elections.
It’s an advantage the PQ enjoys to a certain degree, as well.
Starved for change
One example is the NDP sweep in Quebec in the last federal election.
That broke the rules around typical outcomes when a party has virtually no machine on the ground.
The reason was singular: Jack Layton inspired Quebecers who were starved for a change and ripe to trade in the Bloc Québécois for something new.
Now, in 2012, Quebecers seem equally starved for change.
However, it would be somewhere between difficult to believe and laughable to suggest François Legault has had the same effect on Quebecers in this election campaign and could inspire such a crush for the ballot box.
How much of an election machine the Coalition Avenir Québec party has is debatable.
There is undoubtedly some new membership and some vestiges of the old ADQ, especially in the Quebec City region.
But it is undeniable the CAQ cannot compare with the two established parties when it comes to the army of volunteers at its disposal.
That army is what it will take in many cases to translate Quebecers telling pollsters they intend to vote for the CAQ and them actually going out and laying pencil to paper.