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Charest’s hidden asset? His wife, Michèle

Jean Charest arrives with his wife, Michèle, at a country food store and restaurant Wednesday in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

She is often seen at Jean Charest's side but seldom heard. When Michèle Dionne, the Premier's wife, speaks, ears perk up.

Ms. Dionne took the podium to boast about her husband on Monday, and in a moment of unusual personal candour teared up as her husband revealed they are about to become grandparents for the first time. Their eldest daughter, Amélie, is expecting a little girl in December.

Ms. Dionne described how she and their three children suggested to Mr. Charest several months go that he call it quits. He finally won them over, she said. "The children told him, 'Papa, whatever decision you make, we're with you,' " Ms. Dionne said. "He's given a lot, but he loves it."

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Mr. Charest became emotional too as he described how important Ms. Dionne has been to his political career. "I would never have been Premier of Quebec without my wife Michèle," Mr. Charest told a group of Liberal women in his riding of Sherbrooke.

Little happens in an election campaign without some political consideration, and a tender family moment at a rally is no exception. Mr. Charest, 54, quickly launched into a profession of his admiration for women, who, for the first time in Quebec history, made up half of his cabinet during his last mandate. Women, who historically tend to be more wary of the sovereigntist option of the Parti Québécois and the right-wing politics of Coalition Avenir Québec than men, are traditionally a reliable voting group for Mr. Charest. But polls show the PQ under Pauline Marois has made steady gains recently among female voters.

Pollsters say Ms. Dionne, who is involved in a variety of charitable endeavours, is a considerable political asset for Mr. Charest. Of all the spouses involved in the campaign, she is the most easily recognized by a wide margin and the most admired in a field that includes Ms. Marois's husband, Claude Blanchet, the financial executive who once headed Quebec's provincial investment fund.

"When we asked which leader's spouse you liked the most, Madame Dionne was alone at about 26 per cent. The others didn't even register," said Christian Bourque of Leger marketing. "She is fairly popular."

With the electorate split three ways, the PQ and the Liberals have campaigned desperately to shore up their bases against the upstart CAQ.

Mr. Bourque said the revelation that Mr. Charest is about to become a grandfather might endear him to a voting block the Liberals have long dominated: The over-50 grandparent set.

"For a long time, long after it was no longer true, Mr. Charest was known as this youthful politician. Now, with that lovely scene revealing he will be a grandfather, some people will look at him another way."

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Ms. Dionne has long done much of the groundwork in Mr. Charest's Sherbrooke riding while he tours the province, but it's not often she speaks before the legislature press gallery following the Liberal Leader. She acknowledged the going is tough in the riding, which is often too close to call even when things are going well for Mr. Charest. (Most recent polls have him lagging behind the PQ, provincewide.)

Campaigns "are never easy, you always have to fight. Sherbrooke is not a stronghold, we have to have a presence here, so I'm on the ground as much as I can be," said Ms. Dionne. "People understand he can't be here all the time, he has to tour all of Quebec, so I do what I can."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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