The (well) Hidden Face of the ADQ, 4 July 2002
The surprising mid-June by-election results in Quebec indicate that Quebecers, not happy with the provincial political scene, are looking for change. Mario Dumont and the ADQ have used this sentiment as a springboard, presenting themselves as the party of new ideas and solutions. But are the ideas really new, and what exactly are the solutions?
According to a June 1 Léger Marketing-Le Devoir poll, 83% of Quebecers could not name even one aspect of the Action Democratique du Québec’s platform. However, anyone who has even taken a casual glance at the ADQ’s platform would see that the so-called new ideas and solutions are actually a political turn to the hard right.
The ADQ has clear ideas about how Quebec should be governed, but is ambiguous or silent on other points, most notably on constitutional and international issues.
Not only would the ADQ allow the participation of the private sector in Quebec’s Health Care system, but Dumont does not hide the fact that he is in favour of a two-tiered system. In Education, plans include indexing tuition fees to the consumer price index. The party plans to generate wealth and prosperity in Quebec, but there is no mention of how they want to distribute it. Their fiscal policy does include, however, a flat tax and a minimum revenue programme.
The key element in all this is the ADQ’s plan to deregulate and scale back government. They are committed to reducing State involvement in the economy and eliminating State complications in the creation of jobs. It is, in fact, the entire concept of State intervention that the ADQ is calling into question.
Old at Heart
Critics contend that the new idea card, which the ADQ has been playing, is misleading: these ideas are far from new. According to Guy Lachapelle, political scientist at Concordia University, "Mario Dumont is young, but his ideas are not. They are based on the political conservatism of Mike Harris."
Added to this notion of change is the idea that the ADQ represents the 18-35 year old generation that has been more or less ignored by the PQ and the Liberal Party. However, Lachapelle also questions whether youth really support the ADQ. "Despite appearances, there is not a youth majority behind Dumont." Jacques Jourdain, political scientist at UQAM, adds "the youth that are supporting him follow the corporate model. They have specific values which are often very different than the values of most of the 18-35 age group that is the pillar of the anti-globalization movement."
Eve Gauthier, a labour-rights advocate, is part of that generation. "I don’t identify with the ADQ, Mario Dumont uses the fact that he is 32 to impose a youthful image on his party, but we should not let ourselves be had. The ADQ’s ideas are not at all new or innovative."
Frédéric Dubois, a twenty-something housing activist, echoes Gauthier’s opinions. "I don’t find any of the ADQ’s ideas appealing. They are simply old ideas that mirror the old Reform party. The ADQ is like a provincial version of the Alliance party for Quebecers."
Speaking in Toungues
Jourdain says that Dumont’s populist rehetoric is aimed directly at the middle class. "People are tired about hearing about the constitution, so the ADQ does anything it can to not discuss it... but what does he plan to do about the housing crisis, illiteracy, the suicide rate or students with debts?" He deplores the fact that ADQ has taken the notion of social responsibility that came out of the Quiet Revolution and replaced it with values centred on individual over societal rights.
Lachapelle takes it one step further by arguing that the radical changes proposed by the ADQ threaten to destroy the very foundations of Quebec society. This would signify regression, and not progression. "Mario Dumont’s programme directly attacks the quiet revolution’s legacy by calling into question the social-democratic model." He worries that these policies would threaten social peace and accentuate inequality.
For this reason, the head of the ADQ has every reason to nuance his words if he wants to continue benefiting from important grassroot support. Lachpelle argues that "Quebecers would not accept to simply throw away the social benefits acquired during the Quiet Revolution. Dumont is going to have to tone down his plans since he will not be able to erase all the work that has been done with one fell swoop."
In an early-June interview in Le Devoir, Mario Dumont said that he would not change his platform to avoid clashes with certain segments of society. It remains to be seen whether the head of the ADQ will have the courage to stick to his ideas and whether Quebecers will follow him if he does.