For Mario Dumont, the news just keeps getting worse

The defection of two ADQ MNAs will further tempt Charest to call an election

Élection Québec - 8 décembre 2008

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Mario Dumont, they did.
Action démocratique's free-fall in the polls was painful enough for Dumont, even before the sudden defection of two of his members of the National Assembly to the governing Liberals. And this on the eve of this weekend's ADQ general council meeting.
Premier Jean Charest seems intent on going for Dumont's jugular. It's no coincidence that in their statement yesterday the two defectors, André Riedl and Pierre Michel Auger, spoke of their "disappointment" with the ADQ, which they called a "one-man party" with no team spirit, and especiallywith Dumont's leadership. He is, they said, a man who doesn't listen to his caucus. But they lauded Charest's leadership and the "strength" of the Liberal team.

Their words reflect perfectly what polls have been showing for a year, with the ADQ standing at only 17 per cent, including a dismal 4.5 per cent in the recent Jean-Talon byelection in Quebec City, once ADQ-friendly territory. The ADQ's problems are starting to look so bad that Dumont might be looking back at last year, when Charest kept calling him a "weathervane," as the good old days.
Charest's latest coup will only feed the rumour of a possible election before Christmas. Riding the wave of the Liberal Party's solid lead in the polls and a public satisfaction rate over 60 per cent, any premier would be tempted to press the election button.
Formerly seen as the "most federalist premier in the history of Quebec," Charest has now completed his extreme make-over into a Robert Bourassa clone who wears the "defence of Quebec's interests" on his sleeve. Who'd have thought it?
Charest also continues to be lucky. The ADQ's bad performance has been a gift for him, and so has Pauline Marois's inability to pull the Parti Québécois above 33 per cent support in the polls.
For Dumont, the bad news could get even worse. The two defections leave him with a caucus of 39 members - only three more than the PQ's. With some ADQ MNAs being strong sovereignists, and with their party looking like the Titanic heading for an iceberg, some adéquistes could also eventually jump to the PQ.
So if there is no early election and if Dumont loses more MNAs, to either the Liberals or the PQ, there's a possibility that Marois could become the leader of the official opposition.
More importantly, the ADQ's continued weakness in the polls is bringing voters closer to a classic, two-party PQ-Liberal battle. If that happens, Charest's lucky star will need to work overtime, because that could raise the possibility of some ADQ seats going back to the PQ.
But given Marois's leadership, which has failed to impress, and with sovereignty becoming less and less of an election theme - federally and in Quebec - chances are that Charest and his advisers are counting on the PQ remaining unable to climb up again in the polls. Still, if these two ADQ defections are followed by any more, and should the PQ come back as the official opposition with added visibility and financial and human resources, who knows what could happen?
Which brings us back to the question of whether Charest will cut all of that short by calling a December election. That would let him avoid going before the voters next year, when the economy will be even shakier. Given Charest's tiny window for calling a December election, we'll know soon enough whether he's going to go for it. It's doable. The 1985 election was held Dec. 2. The Liberals got 56 per cent of the vote.
But this time, a quick election call would mean two campaigns in a row for Quebecers - something that should weigh heavily on Charest: When you add the pressures of preparing for Christmas, how much attention would voters really pay? Probably not all that much.

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