Premier Jean Charest’s testimony in front of the Bastarache Commission last week fails to significantly alter the credibility gap between the premier and his former justice minister.
Five weeks into the Bastarache Commission’s attempt to shed light on allegations of influence peddling in the nomination of judges, a majority of Quebecers continue to reject the Premier’s assertions that nothing untoward took place, a new La Presse / Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.
In the online survey of a representative sample of 804 adult Quebecers, 51 per cent of respondents say they are more inclined to believe former justice minister Marc Bellemare’s version of events, despite the fact that to date, only one witness has corroborated it.
There are some signs that the credibility gap between the two men has closed. A similar question asked in April, when the allegations first broke, found that 58 per cent of respondents felt Bellemare was more credible compared to 11 per cent for Charest and his government.
This month, the premier is believed by 17 per cent of Quebecers—a modest six-point rise in credibility that appears to have come mainly from Liberal voters who increasingly appear inclined to stand behind their leader’s version of events.
At the same time, the proportion of Quebecers who believe that neither of the two men are telling the truth has also risen by four points since April to 24 per cent.
Just under half of Quebecers (47%) say they have been following the activities of the Bastarache Commission closely or somewhat closely. In contrast, about two-in-five Quebecers say they are following the new season of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens (38%) or the war in Afghanistan (37%).
Over the course of the commission, the standing of both Bellemare and Charest appears to be stagnant. Following their respective testimonies, a plurality of respondents (38%) say that they believe Bellemare’s version of events just as much as before the commission while 18 per cent say they believe him more now and 23 per cent say they believe him less.
In terms of Charest, 43 per cent say that the premier’s testimony has had no impact on his credibility, 15 per cent say he now has more credibility while 27 per cent say he is less credible.
Bellemare’s allegations have clearly damaged the Premier’s standing. His Liberal Party of Quebec stands at 26 per cent, 14 points behind the opposition Parti Québécois (40%). Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) is third with 11 per cent, followed by Québec Solidaire with 10 per cent, and the Green Party of Quebec (8%
A majority of Quebecers (56%) believe Charest should step down as premier and only 14 per cent of Quebecers believe he will be able to find a way out of the situation he currently finds himself in. A silver lining for the Premier is that there does not appear to be a clear contender to replace him. When asked who they think should lead the party if Charest were to step aside, federal Liberal MP Denis Coderre tops the list at 13 per cent.
The situation is slightly different for Pauline Marois, while there is no one candidate who gets an overwhelming amount of support to replace her, Gilles Duceppe, leader of the federal Bloc Québécois is the top choice for 19 per cent of Quebecers and 30 per cent of PQ voters.
Judges appear to be suffering under the glare of the Bastarache commission as well. While 66 per cent of Quebecers say they believe judges in general do an excellent or good job, opinions change markedly after respondents begin answering questions about the Bastarache Commission. After having answered a series of questions relating to the commission, 40 per cent of respondents say they have little to no confidence in the province’s judicial system.
However, two thirds of Quebecers (65%) are optimistic that tightening the financing rules of political parties would likely be effective in preventing possible influencing peddling, suggesting that Quebecers believe the situation can be fixed. Moreover, two thirds of Quebecers (67%) would support a move to have Quebec’ judges be directly elected by the people.
The relative stability of the credibility numbers for both Bellemare and Charest suggests that the Bastarache Commission has failed to sway opinions one way or another. While the Liberals continue to trail the Parti Québécois, there is a silver lining in the fact that disenchanted Liberal voters are flocking to smaller parties and not the PQ.
Consult our April 2010 survey on Quebec’s Political Scene here.
Jaideep Mukerji, Vice President, Public Affairs
+514 409 0462
Methodology: From September 24 to September 26, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 804 randomly selected adults in Quebec who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.4%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Quebec. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.