The ADQ’s social and economic policies
by Bryan Breguet and François Vaillancourt
The outcome of Quebec’s election in March was a surprise, in large part because of the remarkable showing of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The old two-party system was broken as a third party emerged as the official opposition. But where does this usurper really stand? While much was made of its “autonomist” views – neither federalist nor sovereigntist – its leader, Mario Dumont, insisted that what really distinguished the ADQ from both the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were its social and economic policies. Were they indeed so distinctive? That’s the question this article tries to answer.
The origins of the ADQ
Despite what is sometimes thought, the ADQ was not founded by Mario Dumont. The founder and first leader of the ADQ was Jean Allaire, like Dumont a former Liberal. In the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Allaire chaired a committee that wrote a report recommending a massive decentralization of powers. The Allaire Report’s program would have left the federal government with only five fields of exclusive jurisdiction: money, defence, customs, equalization and management of the common debt.1 The report was adopted by the Liberals in 1991, but was then set aside when the party chose to support the Charlottetown Accord. This led to a split, with supporters of the Allaire Report campaigning for the No when the Charlottetown Accord was put to a referendum in 1992. After the victory of the No side, the split grew wider, with the result that, led by Allaire and the former leader of the Young Liberals, Mario Dumont, the dissident Liberals created a new party, the ADQ. Allaire was elected its leader in March 1994 but, only one month later, he resigned for medical reasons and Dumont became leader. From then until now, there has been no other leader; indeed no leadership contest. From 1994 to 2002, he was the only ADQ member of the Quebec Assembly. In many ways Dumont is the ADQ.2
In the 1994 election, the ADQ managed to obtain just 6.5 per cent of the votes provincewide, with only its leader Dumont winning a seat. After the election, however, Premier Jacques Parizeau gave Dumont and his party a prominent role in the period leading up to the forthcoming referendum in an effort to rally the “soft sovereigntists” to the Yes side. This prominence got Dumont an invitation to participate in the 1998 election debate. In the election the ADQ vote rose to 11.8 per cent, but it failed to win any additional seats. But suddenly, in April and June 2002, the party won four byelections, raising its seat total to five, and jumped in the polls to 40 per cent.3 If an election had been held during this period, Mario Dumont would have been elected premier. But it wasn’t, and ADQ support dropped to 18.2 per cent when the election came in April 2003. The ADQ actually ended up losing a seat, with four MNAs elected.
It was at this time that Quebec’s political class first paid attention to the social and economic policies of the ADQ. They discovered a very conservative party with a right-wing agenda – one, some claimed, that wanted to remake Quebec society for the benefit of the rich. Hence few objected to PQ and Liberal parliamentarians refusing to give the ADQ any resources as a party (they were not required to since the legal threshold was 12 seats or 20 per cent of the vote).
Practically without resources, the ADQ became almost invisible, but Mario Dumont proved an astute politician. In the fall of 2006, right in time for the 2007 election, concerns about the integration of ethnic and religious minorities were gaining the attention of the public – but not the mainstream politicians. Dumont chose to speak out, questioning the politically correct doctrine of reasonable accommodation. Soon he was playing a large role in setting the terms of the election debate. And on March 26 the ADQ won 41 ridings, only seven fewer than the Liberals. It became the official opposition; the PQ was relegated to third place.
In both 2003 and 2007 the ADQ ran on an election platform, staking out quite clearly its position on key policy areas and issues. These provide a basis for posing the question of whether the ADQ was and is the far-right party it has been painted to be. We do so by examining its social and economic policies and comparing them to those of its opponents. We ask also to what extent the ADQ has changed, especially in the period leading up to the 2007 election when the possibility of actually forming an government emerged. It was at that point that Mario Dumont offered his own definition of the ADQ,