Useless polls

The survey on Bouchard's return to politics was interesting, but irrelevant

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The Gazette, Monday, May 15, 2006

Robert Bourassa used to call it the supermarket question - as in you go to the supermarket, your kids fill the cart with all kinds of cereals, but when you get to the cash you have only corn flakes and Rice Krispies.

Leger Marketing asked Quebecers the classic supermarket question on behalf of Le Devoir: Would they would vote for Lucien Bouchard if he returned to lead a new party in the next provincial election?

Well, 41 per cent said they would, as against only 21 per cent for the Parti Quebecois led by Andre Boisclair, and only 18 per cent for the Liberals led by Jean Charest.

You never saw such a splash. The newspaper devoted the top of its front page to a completely manufactured story, complete with a piece by its top political columnist, Michel David, with a turn to a lead editorial by its publisher, Bernard Descoteaux, titled "Crisis of leadership."

Crisis of journalism would be more like it. While the poll was interesting, it was irrelevant, and absolutely meaningless other than as an expression of voters' exasperation with the choices on offer. As for Leger Marketing, it should know putting out silly polls is bad for the brand.

After a week of this fake political orgasm, Bouchard felt obligated to make it clear that the Earth hadn't moved and wasn't about to, anytime soon.

"The door was closed and it remains closed," he said in a press conference in Quebec City last Friday. He is not holding himself, in Gaullist terms, "in reserve of the Republic."

He refused to say whether he would participate in a third referendum. And he pointedly refused to join in piling on Jean Charest, noting how difficult it was to govern Quebec and that his role as a former premier was to be empathetic to his successors.

Of course there is a certain nostalgia for Bouchard, and a vacuum of popularity that waits to be filled. He was a charismatic but confounding public figure, who took the sovereignty movement to the cusp of victory in the 1995 referendum and then for the next five years as premier ran a conservative government as the head of a left-wing Parti Quebecois.

But anyone who knows Bouchard would tell you there are no circumstances under which he would ever return to lead the PQ, which he privately refers to as "that party." He will never again have to spend another weekend away from his sons listening to the nonsensical debates of PQ national council meetings. And he has no interest, none whatsoever, in starting another party of his own, as he did with the Bloc Quebecois in 1990. Been there, done that.

But ask him about his sons, Alex and Simon, teenage academic and basketball stars at College Brebeuf, and his face lights up with joy. Ask him about going on holiday with them, and he can talk all the way through a two-hour lunch.

He has a flourishing international-law practice that regularly takes him to Paris and China. He has kept his hand in the community as chairperson of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

He remains active in public policy as the co-chairperson of a Montreal waterfront review and a signatory of the manifesto, For a Lucid Quebec, a wake-up call to a society that is better at redistributing wealth than creating it. After the end of his marriage, he has a new lady in his life.

When it comes to sacrifices made for Quebec, Bouchard can say he gave at the office.

The supermarket question isn't on the ballot in the next Quebec election. The ballot will offer four choices, the Liberals under Charest, the PQ under Boisclair, the Action democratique du Quebec under Mario Dumont, and the new left-wing Quebec Solidaire, eating into PQ support.

Here's how it sets up. Charest is profoundly unpopular, tripping up over small files like Mount Orford even as he delivers on big ones such as federal-provincial relations with Stephen Harper. His voting intention has crept back to about 30 per cent.

The PQ has plunged 15 points to about 35 per cent in the polls since Boisclair became PQ leader last fall. This has nothing to do with his sexual preference and everything to do with the unresolved character issues arising from his use of cocaine while a member of Bouchard's cabinet. He doesn't have a seat in the legislature, and is hardly visible at all. His hard line on sovereignty is a recipe for electoral disaster.

Dumont steals votes from the Liberals and the PQ, but is stuck in the teens in the polls. As for Quebec Solidaire, it takes votes exclusively from the PQ. Go ahead, Francoise David, make Charest's day.

That's it, kids, four kinds of cereal. Choose one.

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