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A small hurricane against the face

Jean Charest triumphed over his opponents at the Conservative debate on Wednesday night in much the same way Canada could defeat Luxembourg 8-1 in a Spengler Cup preseason game.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

In a suspense as bad as the stakes of the match.

In fact, there was almost no debate. The only confrontation concerned supply management, defended by Jean Charest against Scott Aitchison. The rest were monologues. MM. Charest and Aitchison criticized Justin Trudeau’s “incompetent” management at airports and elsewhere, which they promised to replace with moderate conservatism. The other candidate, Roman Baber, continued his crusade to transform the Conservative Party into an anti-sanitary measures group.

The main highlight of the debate was its surprising existence and the absence of the alleged ringleader, Pierre Poilievre. It was against this ghost that Mr. Charest was fighting.

There were to be only two debates. But given his delay, the former premier of Quebec demanded a third, and the party executive accepted. Mr. Poilievre shunned him. Simply because he doesn’t think he needs it.


PHOTO JUSTIN TANG, THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Pierre Poilievre, alleged leader of the Conservative Party leadership race and absent in the third debate

On Tuesday, new figures showed why. Mr. Poilievre dominates by the number of donors, including in Quebec. Among Quebecers who contributed to a candidate’s campaign, 58% did so for Mr. Poilievre. In Ontario, this rate is 60%. Unsurprisingly, its lead is even greater in the West.

In the Charest clan, it is argued that a path to victory exists. But it is bushy, slippery and steep. In theory, this is still possible. But in theory, lightning could also strike your backyard and ignite your BBQ.

However, the voting system favors Mr. Charest. As in a general election, the total number of votes in the country does not matter. What matters is winning as many constituencies as possible. Each is worth 100 points, regardless of the number of members.

Some ridings in Quebec have just over 100 members, while others in Alberta have thousands. This means that Quebec is overrepresented. With less than 10% of the members, it totals around 23% of the points. Quebec and the Atlantic are also worth more than the entire West.

However, Mr. Charest is not benefiting as much as expected. Admittedly, there is no direct link between donations and votes. But it remains an indication of the popularity of the candidates and the strength of their organization.

In mid-July, a glimmer of hope revived Mr. Charest’s supporters. An Angus Reid poll showed he would have a 10 percentage point lead over the Liberals (34-24), more than Mr. Poilievre’s (34-29). An Ipsos poll also reported that 33% of Canadians have a favorable opinion of him, against 25% for his rival. According to this firm, Mr. Charest had improved his image with Conservative sympathizers. It now garners 45% favorable opinions. At the start of the race, he had only 27%.

Still, in a leadership race, it is not the general population that votes or party sympathizers. You have to have your membership card, and Mr. Poilievre would have sold more than 300,000 of them. That is more than 40% of the members.

His supporters would be younger and less politicized. Probably more attracted also by the scathing attacks of Mr. Poilievre than by his proposals. The leader’s challenge is to mobilize this base to get it to vote. And for that, scathing tweets are as effective in his eyes as a debate.

Still, the empty chair policy is a cowardly strategy. Like Leslyn Lewis, Mr. Poilievre preferred to pay a $50,000 penalty rather than participate. He also showed all the baseness of which he is capable by attacking the previous moderator Tom Clark, whom he describes as “the Laurentian elite”. Yet, as MP for Carleton, just south of Ottawa, he too represents the center of the country…

At the end of July, Stephen Harper came out of his reserve to support his former young minister. It’s not surprising, and it’s not a sign that her foal is in trouble either.

Last winter, my colleague Joël-Denis Bellavance reported that the former Prime Minister planned to intervene during the race. Mr. Harper did it to take revenge on Mr. Charest, his old enemy. He also believes the future of conservatism is at stake. He is pushing Mr. Poilievre’s supporters to vote. And another theory circulates: he also wants to make Mr. Poilievre feel that he owes him one, in order to have his ear if he takes power. At least, that’s what those who don’t digest his intervention think.

Mr. Charest discovers today that revenge is a dish that is eaten at a temperature corresponding to Mr. Harper’s temperament: freezing.

But the former Conservative leader had nothing to lose. As they say in aviation, in the unlikely event that Jean Charest were to win, he would have regretted his silence.

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