Volume 91, Issue 86

Thursday, March 12, 1998

3,770 strong and growing


Charest in political whirlwind

By Caroline Greene
Gazette Staff

After much speculation and weighing pressure, Jean Charest is now saying 'maybe' to the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party – an issue which has sent analysts reeling.

Charest announced Tuesday he is considering leaving his position as leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party to replace current Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson, who recently resigned.

Charest said he will take the next week to listen to both sides before deciding his political fate – a decision which may also decide the fate of the Quebec Liberal Party and perhaps even Canadian unity.

"He has an obligation to hear out arguments on either side," said Ian Brodie, a professor of Canadian politics at Western. If he does leave, he will reinvigorate the Quebec Liberal Party. However, he has the best numbers he will ever have against Bouchard right now, Brodie said. "It would be a horrible job. The Quebec Liberal Party is deeply divided."

Charest has popularity in the polls comparable to that of Lucian Bouchard, said professor of political science Sid Noel. "However, it is not fair to place the burden upon Charest to hold the country together single-handedly," he added.

Although Charest is certainly popular in Quebec, there are still other qualified candidates who could replace Johnson, said Nawaz Tahir, president of the Young Liberals at Western.

He will be an effective leader wherever he is, said Courtney Donovan, President of UWO PC Association. "Obviously we want him to stay with the PC party, but given the current climate in Quebec he'd give Bouchard a run for his money which is something we need to do as a country."

Charest's departure would result in some big shoes to fill and there would be a domino effect in Canadian politics if he were to leave the PC party, said Martin Westmacott, associate professor of political science. "The Tories will be in deep trouble if he leaves."

Rumours of a replacement for Charest as PC leader have been focused on Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. "It's Klein or nothing," Brodie said.

This senario opens up the possibility of integrating the right wing under Klein and merging the Conservative Party with the Reform Party – another suggestion circulating the political scene in recent weeks, prompted by Reform leader Preston Manning.

Patrick Callaghan, president of the Western's Reform club sees the merger as a great idea. "The Mike Harris and Ralph Klein Tories and the federal reformers all have the same ideology."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998