A snap election to Quebec’s National Assembly took place on Monday and Jean Charet’s Liberals won a bare majority over the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois 66 seats to 51 for the PQ. The real story of this desultory election (only 54 percent of Quebec voters took part in it) was the collapse of Quebec’s conservative (by Quebec standards) party the Action Democratic du Quebec or the ADQ. It was in early 2007 that the ADQ supplanted the PQ as the official opposition to Charet’s Liberals with 41 seats. Now they’ve been reduced to just seven seats and 16 percent of the vote.
The results may very well be the Icarus landing of the wunderkind of Quebec politics, the 30-something Mario Dumont, who is the creator of the ADQ and helped it reach unprecedented heights.
Dumont stepped down as the ADQ’s leader after the results and many are wondering if it means the end of the ADQ itself, especially without the charasmatic Dumont out in front.
What happend in less than two years time for such a stunning reversal? The cliffnotes version: 1). ADQ as seen as too close to national Tories (CPC) who are becoming very unpopular in Quebec. The CPC’s turn to Canadian nationalism turned many ADQ seats over to the PQ; 2). ADQ representatives in the National Assembly were too inexperienced in the ways of politics to be an effective opposition and all were overshadowed by Dumont and 3). The ADQ still has not presented a clear definition of what it thinks sovereignty for Quebec should be, at least not one that can compete with PQ for the sovereigntist vote.
On top of being the centrialist party, the Liberals have become the exclusive party for Anglos in the province, leaving the Francophone vote divided between the PQ and ADQ and new far left-wing sovereigntist party the Solidare Quebec which picked up its first seat in the Assembly.
So the PQ went up and the ADQ went down, and the opposite was true over a year ago. It’s clear that there may not be enough room within the Francophone vote for more than one sovereigntist party. Heck, even Charet himself was sounding quite sovereigntist in his rhetoric which no doubt sent some votes his way. The political environment is already tough enough for a conservative party in Quebec, especially for one that really has not offered a clear idea of what sovereignty means to them (that’s easy to do when the Liberals run Ottawa, not the Tories who are becoming very unpopular in Quebec now that they’ve become more nationalistic and that’s hurt the ADQ especially). For the ADQ to supplant the PQ among Francophones may require more than just tax cuts or “pro-family” policies. It may very well take a cultural revival among traditionalists. After all, such cultural upheaval is what created the PQ in the first place.
UPDATE: Stephan Dion resigned as leader of the national Liberals quicker than he had intended to and candidates for the leadership vote have all stepped aisde in favor of writer and author Michael Ignatieff. Thus the LP leadership convention scheduled for May 2 in Vancouver will basically be a coronation (assuming none wish to re-enter the fray). The reason for all this Grit maneuvering was to provide the new “coalition” – the potential joint government majority of the LP, NDP and Bloc Quebecois – an actual leader to give it credibility to Candadian citizens instead of the lame duck and ineffectual Dion. The problem is Ingatieff was not a fan of the “coalition” to begin with and may very well dissolve it if PM Stephen Harper makes enough concessions on the budget to avoid a no-confidence vote. Parliment reopens in late January.