[Chronique de Jean-François Lisée] The debate, this chore

The 1992 presidential debate between Bill Clinton and George Bush (the father) did not go down in history because of one surprise attack or one incisive remark. We don’t remember it because Bush, the outgoing president, couldn’t help looking at his watch. He was really looking forward to it being over. He didn’t want to be there. This debate was a chore. Voters got the message. On election night, he was gone.

François Legault did not need to look at his watch on Thursday evening. From the first moment, he thought it was too long. His face did not become tense as the two hours of the debate unfolded. He was so at the start, at the first question, then he never stopped being so. His displeasure was such that during a face-to-face with Dominique Anglade – she, very lively – Legault seemed to take refuge in a recess of his consciousness for a good ten seconds. He was, as we are now in the habit of saying, “elsewhere”, where according to him the Quebecers live politically.

I listened to the debate in a crowded restaurant in Rosemont with PQ activists galvanized by the performance of their leader. Everyone was dumbfounded by the Prime Minister’s long silence. To help, I shouted to him: “François, wake up, you’re live! »

When he came to, after letting the Liberal “lady” take over the whole field, he was cut off by Pierre Bruneau. The minutes allotted for this exchange were gone, swallowed up in liberal prose. Legault did not seem otherwise offended; time passed, that’s what counted.

I’m not saying that the head of the CAQ was amorphous at all times. His attacks on Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ orange tax on cars were devastating. His criticism of the number of power plants it would take to carry out the Liberal green hydrogen project (21 times the Romaine) hit home. And to Paul St-Pierre Plamondon who accused him of abandoning culture, he replied that he had added half a billion to the department’s budget, a record.

Nevertheless. All his non-verbal language told voters-viewers that this exercise was for him the equivalent of an acupuncture session with an incompetent practitioner. He was in « I’m so tired of being criticized, if you only knew! » mode. « . We know, Mr. Legault, we know.

Man loves to govern, it shows. But his tolerance for the game of democracy and contradiction seems to have withered over the years. So much so that this whole election campaign weighs on him. Since day one, his energy level has been that of a conscript, not that of a volunteer. He should be the fit fighter to win the second round; rather, it displays the ill-resigned resilience of the punch bag.

Its entire strategic posture is affected. A party leader in search of an electoral victory can never win on his balance sheet, but always on his project. His opponents only want to talk about his shortcomings, that’s for sure. His role is not to let himself be bogged down and to turn the voters’ gaze to the bright future that his program is drawing for them. Thursday evening, François Legault almost never spoke of what he intended to do tomorrow for Quebecers. This is a mistake of great caliber for such an experienced politician and also — or so it was believed — well surrounded.

The needles will move, that’s for sure. It was written even before the start of the campaign. The prime minister’s overexposure and the opposition leaders’ underexposure over the past two years had given the leader of the CAQ an advantage that was to mechanically diminish with the opening of the campaign.

The only question was, and remains, how far the descent will go. The Léger pre-debate poll tells us that the CAQ lost four points during the first half of the campaign. It was assumed that the exposure of voters to the real competence of the four opposition leaders in the debate would feed this trend. With his poor performance on Thursday, François Legault will, in my opinion, have fueled this shift more than expected. But he starts from so high that it is difficult to foresee a scenario where the fall would become fatal to the renewal of his government.

This is why next Thursday’s debate on Radio-Canada is becoming crucial. If the same Legault as last Thursday shows up – grumpy, grumpy – bettors will have to discount him seriously. The American presidential experience offers us another example that should be pondered. In the 2012 election, a Barack Obama certain of his re-election had a meltdown during the first debate against the Republican Mitt Romney. He had taken it lightly. Then learned the lesson. In the second debate, he was transformed, energetic, combative. Ah, OK, the voters said to themselves: he really wants her, the job !

Like Clark Kent who, when he takes off his glasses, becomes Superman, François Legault should also take off his — a change of looks does not improvise in the middle of the campaign – and show us that he really wants it, the superpower.

jflisee@ledevoir.com / blog: jflisee.org

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