Young 'Super Mario' Shakes Up Canadian Politics ; Monday, an Upstart Right-of-Center Party in Quebec Won Three of the Four By-Elections

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Monday's by-elections in Quebec, in which three of the four seats were won by the relatively new, right-of-center Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), may signal a new era in the province's politics - including an end to the separatist movement that has dominated political debate here for the past 40 years.

And it is all due to the efforts of one man: Mario Dumont. Mr. Dumont is the most talked-about man in Canadian politics, altering political discourse in Quebec in just eight years.

For French-speaking Quebecois, Dumont is "Super Mario," a nickname that mirrors his amazing rise from a political oddity to likely the next premier.

To others, he is the 'oldest' young man in Quebec politics - in his early 30s, he's been a member of the National Assembly, and the founder and leader of ADQ for eight years. The handsome, well- spoken - and happily married - Dumont also has been jokingly called every Quebec mother's dream son-in-law.

More important, for many young Quebeckers he is, as the newspaper Le Devoir put it, "une bouffee d'air frais" -a breath of fresh air - a break from decades of separatist debate.

The governing Parti Quebecois (PQ), which held all four seats before the vote, retained only one, and that by 648 votes. The Liberals, who many felt had to win at least one seat, were shut out.

Traditionally the public uses by-elections to express dissatisfaction with the governing party on both the federal and provincial levels. The PQ, for instance, has won only two of the past eight. But observers say these may indicate a seismic shift.

"Mario Dumont is not a fad," says Christian Dufour, a professor at the Ecole Nationale d'Adminstration Publique in Montreal. "For many people, young people especially, he represents a real change from the old battles and policies of the past. For others who also want a change, he is neither the Liberals nor the Parti Quebecois, and they will vote for him for that alone, even if they don't really know what he stands for."

Dumont is a great example of the "overnight sensation" who actually has been around for years. He was the leader of the Young Liberals of Quebec when he left the party in 1994 to start his own party, the ADQ. For years, he was the party's only member. …