The Westminster parliamentary system is often called a crown-in-parliament system of governance. In effect, the powers of the monarch are transferred to the Prime Minister of the confederation and to the Premier of each province. So, what happens when the population of a province no longer trusts its Premier? As well, if a breach of trust has occurred between the Premier and his citizens, does the ruling party have the moral authority to continue governing with the said Premier in office? These are the questions that Quebecers should be asking themselves.
Needless to say, when approximately 70% of those surveyed believe the version of events put forward by former Quebec Minister of Justice, Marc Bellemare, as opposed to the meagre 12% who believe the Quebec Premier's Jean Charest version, there exists a crisis of confidence and credibility, and it is not as if that the crisis is going to disappear when the Bastarache commission files it report concerning Mr. Bellemare's accusations.
In some sense, this crisis has been in the making for years. In short, many if not the majority of Quebecers have the distinct feeling that they have been repeatedly lied to.
Beginning in 2003 with the electoral promise to lower taxes by one billion per year during five years that was never kept, claiming that healthcare was the Liberals number one priority when no significant progress was made with regard to wait times and access to a family physician, calling a general election during the height of the Great Recession and then maintaining that there was no prior knowledge of the 40 billion dollar annual loss in the state-managed pension fund, and refusing to hold a public inquiry into the link between the construction industry and the financing of Quebec's political parties despite a series of revelations and public opinion that indicate that such an enquiry is badly needed, it should not come as a surprise that the majority of Quebecers no longer have confidence in Premier Charest and want him to step down.
So, where do we go from here?
Already, another controversy has emerged in the way the Liberal government is handling the exploration and the potential exploitation of Quebec's huge deposits of shale gas. There are some very serious and well-documented concerns with the safety of the extraction process, hydraulic fracturing, the most serious is that this process will contaminate the ground water in the surrounding areas around the gas wells. Moreover, given the importance of the publicly-owned Quebec Hydro, the largest producer of hydro electricity inn North America, it is odd that within the context of Quebec politics, a public debate has not occurred with regard to the ownership of this extremely important natural resource. In fact, it has been just revealed that a number of individuals with close ties to the Quebec Liberal Party have recently moved on to take on key positions in the gas and oil industry.
Having imposed a ridiculously short time period for the province's environmental review agency to produce a report (4 months) on complex issue where the intergenerational stakes are extremely high in order to quickly adopt a law which will establish the parameters for the oil and gas industry, the Charest-led Liberal government gives the distinct impression that the fix is on, leaving ordinary Quebecers that they are once again victims of an abuse of political power.
Indeed, in response to the population's desire to have a public enquiry into the endemic problem of influence peddling, we get the Bastarache Commission looking only at the question of the nomination of judges. In a similar vein, instead of getting a thorough environmental review of the proposed extraction of shale gas, the population receives a half-assed, short and speedy assessment of something that cries out for a slow a prudent process of examination.
So, the question arises can the Charest-led Quebec Liberal government be trusted to manage the affairs of the state in a fashion that protects and promotes the interest of the population at large. In my opinion, the answer is an overwhelming "No!"
Unfortunately, the Quebec Liberals have a mandate to govern Quebec for at least another three years. This does not bode well for a population that has already lost confidence in its democratic institutions. We are like the proverbial lobsters caught in the trap of a dysfunctional political system without the wherewithal to escape.
The only ones that can presently rectify the situation are the members of the Quebec Liberal Party. To continue on with Mr. Charest at the helm until the end of the present mandate is to risk having the same misfortune fall upon the party as that as their federal Liberal cousins, to have the Liberal name become a toxic brand for a least a generation to come. Hopefully, the plans for Jean Charest's graceful exit from the office of the Premier are already in the works.