The Odd Couple: Mario Dumont's ADQ and the "Quebec Model"
Lisee, Jean-Francois, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion
HOW ARE WE TO ACCOUNT FOR LAST YEAR'S SUDDEN ASCENDANCE of Mario Dumont, the young leader of Quebec's third party, the Action Democratique du Quebec?
There is, of course, the man himself: he has style, energy, determination. He comes across as sure of himself but not arrogant. He calls for dramatic changes, yet his style is anything but that of a damn-the-torpe-does radical. An experienced political tactician despite his age, he has good timing and a developed ear for popular sentiment and for what would play in the media. Above all, and contrary to his Patti Quebecois and Liberal foes, he didn't seem torn, anguished or burdened by Quebec politics and his place in it. He seems at ease, like a fish in water. In Quebec, a complicated place that breeds inferiority complexes, this is a refreshing posture.
Yet Mario Dumont had all these qualities two, four, six years ago. But he rose to prominence only last year. And although his star has waned since his party garnered more than 50 per cent of the votes in four byelections in June 2002, and ended up--despite a rather strong team of candidates including the former mayor of Montreal--with only four seats in the election, he won almost 20 per cent of the vote and has made a significant impact in the Quebec political landscape.
George Bush, Sr., used to say, "Ninety per cent of politics is showing up," and there are indeed times when persistence pays. But here, it is the Quebec landscape that shifted to make Dumont man of the hour, not the other way around. In early 2002, what seemed to be an endless series of ethical blunders and patronage accusations tarred the PQ leadership and--at another level--the Chretien Liberals, with serious spillover for their Quebec cousins. All of a sudden, every incumbent politician seemed on the take, passe, good for retirement. Dumont alone--literally a single-member caucus-did not suffer from that alienation, his own previous considerable legal problems with political party financing having left no apparent trace in the electorate.
The consensus that sovereignty--though supported by more than 40 per cent of the electorate--is not an issue to be revived in the foreseeable future helped Dumont by blurring an essential political divide. He had been in the sovereigntist camp in the 1995 referendum: today he proclaims--while being careful not to fully reject the notion--that the issue is "no longer on the radar screen." Hence former PQ voters could join him without renouncing their ideal. At the same time, Jean Charest had not yet won acceptance as an alternative premier among francophones, so malcontent Liberal voters were temporarily redirected to the rising ADQ.
An early spring 2002 byelection in a riding in the Saguenay region was a key moment. Dumont seized on the byelection and campaigned as though he was running himself. People came out to "vote for Mario" (his name is always on the ballot, since the official name of his party is Action democratique du Quebec, equipe Mario Dumont). Yet now it was no longer just Mario: the Saguenay victory broke the dike. Now other victories could ensue.
Moreover, Dumont paradoxically benefited from the very thing he attacked: the so-called Quebec model. He repeatedly insisted--as did Charest--that Quebec is poorly managed, smothers initiative and entrepreneurship, confiscates productive capital and discourages individual success. And he promised to take the government "out of the way" of job-creating enterprises, cut red tape, trim the Quebec state, lower taxes--the ADQ toyed, for a while, with the flat tax--and bring the private sector into health care. A Dumont government would not follow the lead of the unions, social advocates and civil-society summits that were the trademark of the PQ government. And business (which flocked to his side, wallet in hand, in the few months before the election) will at last take its rightful place.
The irony is that had he won power, as if by magic, he would have inherited the most buoyant economy in North America, in fact the fastest growing economy among the seven most industrialized nations for five long years. …