|You'd be smiling too!|
Will Premier Charest call an early election or will he ride out his mandate for another two and a half years?
In the dog days of summer, when political stories are in short supply and journalists have an obligation to fill columns, it's time to engage in fanciful speculation.
The sudden collapse in support of the Parti Quebecois and the small uptick in Liberal Party support, coupled with the fact that Francois Legault's new party is not up to speed, might indicate that it's a good a time for Premier Charest to take the plunge and call a snap election.
But it isn't going to happen.
If anything the May 2, federal election showed us is that it doesn't take much organization to win an election, especially when the voters are out for a change.
Like the NDP, Francois Legault could field a group of shnooks and still probably wipe the floor with the hapless Liberals and Peekists. There are a good number of sitting members (from all parties) of the National Assembly who are ready to jump ship to his new party and should he combine forces with the AQD, it would likely be a majority government.
Given the odds of defeat, Premier Charest will wait it out.
Not to say things will be better in two years, but why accept a sure defeat now?
Even if a miracle of miracles happens, the Liberals could hold on to power as a minority government, it still doesn't help Mr. Charest who is sure to go down to personal defeat in Sherbrooke.
The Premier has held his seat by less than a 10% margin in each of the two last elections and not even he can believe, given his collapse in personal popularity, that he will be re-elected.
The only possibility that I can think of is for Mr. Charest to run in Westmount, an Anglo riding where he would win handily. Mr. Charest has lived in the wealthy Montreal enclave for a decade and has virtually no ties left to the Sherbrooke riding that he represents. There has been a stink in the Press lately about members of the National Assembly not living in the ridings that they represent and so he could make the case quite successfully that it's appropriate to run in Westmount.
If the polling numbers remain decent and the PQ. continues into its descent into oblivion, there is a chance things can work out for the Liberals, perhaps as a coalition government with the new Force Quebec.
But there's another issue mitigating in favour of Mr. Charest running out his mandate.
In June 2013, Jean Charest turns 55 years old and becomes eligible for his federal government pension. It makes sense for him, on a personal level, to wait it out until then so that in the event of an election defeat, he isn't left scrambling to find an income.
Having served almost 14 years in Ottawa, Charest is entitled to about 70% of the average of his best six years in Parliament and having been a cabinet minister, that works out to about 100 grand a year.
Mr. Charest is also eligible for his Quebec Parliamentary pension and at age sixty he'll collect another 100k (on top of his federal pension) for life, courtesy of Quebec taxpayers.
As I was studying eligibility requirement and benefits related to the Quebec pension plan for politicians, I came across a detail that bowled me over for its generosity.
The Quebec parliamentary pension starts paying at age sixty (federal at 55,) but it seems by taking a reduced payout, Mr Charest can start his pension early, at the exact same time as his federal pension kicks in.
Now for readers to understand how attractive this offer is, let me explain how it works when ordinary Canadians take their Canada Pension early, at sixty instead of sixty-five.
That pension is reduced by ½ of one percent for each month that we retire early before reaching sixty-five years old. That means that if you retire at age sixty instead of sixty-five, (60 months early) your pension will be reduced by a whopping 30% (60 x .05%)
And so, if you are eligible for a $600 dollar a month pension at sixty-five, you can retire early at age sixty and immediately receive a pension of $420 a month. Read a full explanation
When a Quebec politician retires early, the penalty is nowhere near as harsh, in fact, it is so laughably small that any politician who is no longer serving would be a fool not to exercise the option.
While we ordinary plebeians take a penalty of 30% to retire at age sixty instead of sixty-five, a Quebec politician who takes an early pension at fifty-five instead of sixty is slapped with a crushing penalty of just 5%!
Yes, that is not a typo! That is six times more generous than what is provided to ordinary Canadians.
In fact under the rules of the plan, a Quebec politician can take a pension at forty-five years old and take just a 25% penalty. Incredible!
All this is explained in a document which you can download (French only) entitled;
Le Régime de retraite des membres de l’Assemblée nationale
In the case of the Premier, early retirement would mean his $100,000 pension would be reduced by a measly $5,000 to $95,000. If he started to collect at age 55 instead of sixty years old, over that five year period he would collect and extra $475,000. If he collects his reduced pension for thirty years, let's say to 85 years, he would have been penalized just $125,000 for taking an early pension, a net gain of $350,000.
How do you say no-brainer in French?
Each year that Mr. Charest hangs on, adds $7,500 to his annul pension. If he holds out until the end of his mandate it will mean an additional $18,000 a year added to his pension. FOR LIFE+ INDEXED!
At a certain point one has to believe that the pension considerations will affect his decision to call an election.
At any rate, if he stays until the end of 2013, he will be entitled to a combined federal/provincial pension of about $200K.
Yes, $200,000 a year.
When Charest hits sixty years old, the pension will become indexed. In other words, it will rise automatically with inflation each year, not too shabby a deal!
And so Mr. Charest will be free to pursue other interests at fifty-five years old, financially secure.
All this being said, I can assure readers that given the circumstances, Charest would forgo his pension to remain Premier. He adores the job.
He loves the trappings of power, the political rumbles in Parliament, the foreign travel, rubbing shoulders with the glitterati, the intrigues and the political gamesmanship of the National Assembly. All of it!
In this respect Mr. Charest is unique.
How many Canadians Premiers resign or cut short their career at the summit of power, worn down by the daily grind in a pressure-cooker job? Quite a few, including Gordon Campbell, Danny Williams, Ed Stelmach and Gary Doer and that's just recently.
But Mr. Charest soldiers on, more at home and comfortable with the job of Premier today, as ever before.
At any rate, should Mr. Charest be shown the door, he's too young at 53 not to work.
But outside of politics, there aren't a lot of opportunities for Mr. Charest.
I know he abhors the diplomatic corps, where he'd have to take orders from political superiors
and having burned his bridges with Prime Minister Harper, there will be no opportunities for a juicy federal appointment.
As for joining a law firm, Mr. Charest has little experience, having never really practised law. Being a Wal-Mart greeter at a law firm, taking rich clients to lunch, isn't really his speed and teaching at a university is much too boring.
Perhaps his good friend Mr. Sarkozy can hook him up to some sort of an international type of position, but who knows.
No, Jean Charest prefers to do what he does best and what he loves- being Premier and he will have to be dragged away from his job, kicking and screaming.
Putting his Premiership up for grabs prematurely is not his style, not without some pretty good prospects for success and Mr. Charest has always been expert at judging odds.