Politicians aren’t supposed to want summer elections. Voters are distracted and campaign workers are on holiday. Moreover, this year the Olympics are dominating the news. But for Jean Charest, the unpopular Liberal premier of Quebec (pictured in effigy above), an under-the-radar campaign represents his best chance of winning a fourth term. It was thus no surprise that on August 1st he called an election to be held on September 4th—long before it is required by December 2013. The rest of Canada will be watching closely. Although the Canadian economy has weathered the global recession well—it grew by 2.8% between 2008 and 2011, compared with just 1.1% in the United States—it owes its resilience mostly to the energy and commodity boom in the country’s four western provinces, where unemployment is only 5.5%. In contrast, it is 7.9% in the six eastern provinces, which rely on manufacturing and services, and 7.7% in Quebec. Home to nearly a quarter of Canada’s people, Quebec will test whether the country’s manufacturing base can recover, even as oil exports bolster the currency.
Mr Charest has sought to hitch Quebec to the commodity bandwagon. Inspired by the success of a previous Liberal government’s hydroelectric project in the 1970s, he announced last year his own development plan for the province’s resource-rich north. The government hopes it will yield C$80 billion ($80 billion) of energy, mining and forestry investments. However, the scheme is set to unfold over 25 years. The public has greeted it with a yawn.
The election will also decide if the dormant issue of separatism returns to the national agenda. Neither the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper, the prime minister, nor the leftist New Democratic Party, which became the official opposition after beating the Liberals in last year’s federal election, are active in Quebec’s provincial politics. Instead, power has alternated between the Liberals, who want continued union with Canada, and the Parti Québécois (PQ), which seeks independence for the Francophone province. Polls show that Quebeckers’ appetite to reopen the debate over their status has dwindled since a referendum on independence was narrowly defeated in 1995. Mr Charest staunchly supports staying in Canada, and warns that a separatist resurgence might harm the economy.
Full Article: Quebec’s election: None of the above, please | The Economist.