Montreal, December 15, 2008 • No 262



Martin Masse
is publisher of QL.




by Martin Masse


          I know that outside of Quebec, and especially in conservative and libertarian circles, Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) leader Mario Dumont was often seen as the right-wing champion of the province. A politician who, unlike that red Tory Jean Charest, stood for free-market policies, a smaller and less interventionist government and family values.


          True, he supported the Yes side in the 1995 referendum on separation, but that was a long time ago when he was young and impulsive. Since then, he has defended a traditional “autonomist” position (against a centralised Canada, but not for separation) that can easily be reconciled with the conservative view that the central government should do as little as possible and stick to its areas of jurisdiction.

          At one point, Dumont became Stephen Harper’s best friend in Quebec. Some even saw him as a future conservative minister, even though Dumont never showed any interest in federal politics. The two organisations worked hand in hand on the ground. The ADQ’s surprising surge in last year’s election, when it became the official opposition, following the Conservative breakthrough of the year before, was proof that there was a niche for right-wing ideas in Quebec.

          Now that the Conservatives have stalled in the province, Dumont’s party has been scaled back to its former rump, and Dumont himself is quitting, some will probably say that Quebecers have once again chickened out and rejected small government policies in a time of economic uncertainty. The province is irrevocably left-wing, principled conservative politicians need not apply. More proof of this left-wing turn is the fact that Plateau Mont-Royal voters in central Montreal (in the riding of Mercier) elected Amir Khadir, the first MNA from the young hard-left Québec Solidaire party.

          That analysis might make superficial sense—but it’s wrong.

          First, I don’t remember an election campaign that attracted so little interest over the past 25 years. At 57 per cent, you have to go back to the 1920s to find a lower participation rate. It’s hard to know what Quebecers think when half of them—including myself—don’t bother expressing an opinion because they don’t care enough about the results or, given the choices offered, they don’t believe it will make any difference.

          Second, the Plateau is not Quebec. It’s one of the last people’s democratic republics left on earth and the news has still not reached them that the Berlin wall was dismantled. The Plateau has the largest concentration in the country of avant-garde artists, socialist university professors, bien-pensant writers and journalists, and various other species of freaks. The riding of Mercier almost elected another hard-left socialist from one of the predecessors of Québec Solidaire about a decade ago, and actually sent to the National Assembly a Liberal Party member with her hair dyed red who described herself as a socialist earlier this decade. The fact is, Québec Solidaire only got four per cent of the vote across the province and remains a fringe party.

"No one who believes in smaller government should lament the ADQ’s defeat and Dumont’s departure. On the contrary, it should be seen as a just reward for the waste of time and political goodwill that he has been responsible for."

          As for Dumont, well—good for him if he can finally find a real job and do something productive for the first time in his life.

          Contrary to his idealised image as a right-wing politician, Dumont is, like Charest, a confused opportunist who has veered left and right over the years in a desperate search to find support. True, his political base consists mostly of suburban and rural families with more traditional values than average. And over the years, the ADQ has stood for more private health care, cuts in the public service and government programs and an end to multiculturalism and the proliferation of wacky state-given privileges disguised as “minority rights.”

          But “family-oriented policies” can be understood in many ways and some are not exactly consistent with libertarianism (perhaps more with big government conservatism of the type we have in Ottawa and Washington—but that’s another issue). The ADQ in fact became the champion of all kinds of government interventions and subsidies favouring families, which directly contradicted its small-government message. In recent years, it even adopted an economic platform that advocates propping up the regions, centrally planning industrial investments across the province, promoting local goods and services, and all kinds of other policies that even Québec Solidaire would not disagree with.

          The ADQ denounced the tax cuts enacted by the Charest government, saying that we should spend more on families and reduce the debt instead. The last point is of course not a bad one, but a real conservative party should advocate spending and tax cuts to reach that goal. It would have been impossible to say, during the past two years, which of the ADQ or the Quebec Liberal Party was the better (or rather least awful) choice from a free-market perspective.

          The interesting thing is that when he was focusing on his more free-market policies like private health care and a flat tax, Dumont was riding high in the polls; and when he was sending confused messages, his numbers were going down. But weird as it may seem, nobody in the party seems to have spotted that pattern. When it became suddenly very popular two years ago, the party attracted a bunch of opportunists with no coherent set of beliefs apart from their autonomist stand. The 41 MNAs that were elected in March 2007 never made any impression on Quebec voters and it’s no surprise that most of them lost their seat yesterday.

          I have been saying for many years that it is a waste of time to work and vote for the ADQ. In 2003, after the ADQ was soundly defeated following a disastrous campaign where they repudiated most of their small-government positions (the media and interest groups had been waging a virulent campaign saying that Quebecers did not want such radical right-wing policies, and the idiots bought it despite achieving their highest poll numbers ever in 2002 with these policies), I wrote an article entitled “ADQ Defeated: Good Riddance!” (in French, « Défaite de l'ADQ: bon débarras! » Still, many of my libertarian acquaintances continued to work for the party or say that it stood as our best option and should be supported. Almost all of them have now abandoned that hope.

          I don’t know what will happen with the party now that the man who represented it almost all by himself for so many years is leaving it. But no one who believes in smaller government should lament the ADQ’s defeat and Dumont’s departure. On the contrary, it should be seen as a just reward for the waste of time and political goodwill that he has been responsible for.

          I am convinced there is a political niche in Quebec for consistent free-market policies, although democratic politics, with its bias favouring vote-buying and opportunistic behaviour, inevitably puts us at a disadvantage. Perhaps a leader and a party with more consistent views will one day be able to exploit it and it will be worth giving it our support. Until that day arrives, I’m not wasting any time participating in this electoral farce. And I’m happy to note that a great many Quebecers agreed with me this time.


* This article was first published on the Western Standard website on December 9, 2008.