Mario Dumont is wise to propose abolition of Quebec's ridiculous and unjust agglomeration councils. The Action democratique du Quebec leader evidently hopes this bold and sensible promise will bring him an electoral break-through in Montreal's West Island.
But that is just not going to happen. As long as Dumont continues his hypocritical and self-contradictory cant about Quebec's place in Canada, he will get nowhere in Montreal, and deserves support from no Quebecers.
Dumont has shown himself adept at saying, even believing, things he reckons people want to hear. In the last Quebec election campaign his pitch about generational equity, which made him an early "lucide," should have resonated strongly with younger voters. But it did not, so now he has pretty well abandoned that whole line of argument. Currently, he's trying to cash in on what he perceives as a backlash against minorities, by taking a hard line against most "reasonable accommodation."
You can sense the same sort of calculations behind his pitch on agglomeration councils: These metropolitan governing bodies were the back-of-an-envelope Liberal response to the equally impromptu municipal mergers imposed by the preceding Parti Quebecois government. The result is an infuriating mess the Liberals have stopped trying to defend, but refuse to change.
Promising to get rid of the agglomeration councils might be expected to win Dumont plenty of votes in metropolitan regions, not only Montreal but also Longueuil and Quebec City. In the last election, the Liberals promised to reverse the forced mergers, and harvested a bumper crop of suburban votes in the West Island (which might as well be a one-party state) and also on the South Shore and around the provincial capital.
However, the Liberals betrayed suburbanites, and imposed the agglomeration councils. This "mega-city lite" structure has proved to be almost as onerous and costly as the original, while being less democratic.
But even if suburban voters were ready to believe another promise on this issue, Dumont's gambit still wouldn't work, because there's an issue even bigger than demerger in the suburban areas of Montreal Island: national unity. Today's West Island and West End are multicultural and bilingual, even multilingual, but most people there share a distaste for the notion of Quebec independence.
And Dumont's position on the future of Canada fails the smell test. He campaigned for separation in the 1995 referendum, remember. Today, the ADQ platform, adopted late last year, is incomprehensible, almost mystical, on the subject. This "autonomist" policy proposes new "equal to equal" constitutional talks with the rest of Canada. While that goes on, Quebec would write itself a new constitution. Quebecers would pay only Quebec income tax, and pay it to "The Autonomous State of Quebec." This, the document claims, is self-affirmation without separation.
This nonsense makes the Liberals, authors of the agglomeration shambles, look like policy geniuses by comparison. And it reminds us that even the PQ, for all its faults, is at least clear about what it plans.
Now Dumont has tipped his hand even further, saying "old stock" Quebecers could use this new constitution to slap limits on the reasonable accommodation of minorities. You don't need to be an "angryphone" to understand how anglophones and allophones would fit into Dumont's Autonomous State.
There is room for different views on accommodation of cultural and religious minorities, and Dumont's position, while somewhat emotionally expressed, is not bluntly beyond the pale - so to speak - of legitimate discussion.
But on the broader issue of Quebec's future, his autonomy scheme is full of ambiguity, confusion, and code words - exactly the opposite of the clarity that the question of sovereignty demands.
This dishonest and dangerous nonsense should place Dumont and his party well outside the bounds of serious consideration for any voter, federalist or the opposite.