When Mario Dumont signalled his resignation on election night, he was the first leader in a long time to leave without blaming his party, the media or anyone else.
At his press conference on Wednesday, he noted that even though the media had been "very, very hard" on the Action démocratique during last year's election campaign, "this didn't keep us from getting 31 per cent of the vote." Dumont took full responsibility for having shrunk the ADQ from a 41-member official opposition to a caucus of seven in less than two years.
He might be only 38 years old, but he displayed the kind of maturity that would have served him well had he exhibited it more often as leader of the opposition. But he didn't.
Dumont never allowed more than three or four of his 40 neophyte MNAs to get any decent public exposure, even after they'd learned the ropes of their jobs. His leadership style seemed to be inspired less by Robert Bourassa's collegial approach and more by the authoritative ways of his two role models: Stephen Harper and Lucien Bouchard. But he could be forgiven for thinking that if this had worked for them, it could for him.
Dumont's other problem was that once he got the chance to shine as the "premier-in-waiting," his main weakness came shining through: the paradox that he has become over the years.
On one hand, Dumont had an uncanny ability to identify, understand and pragmatically echo a number of voters' real, down-to-Earth preoccupations.
He did it with the middle-class, patients of the health-care system, the regions, and younger Quebecers who felt left out by baby boomers' disproportionate control of the levers of power.
On the other hand, when the time came to outline ideas and solutions, the pragmatist turned into something else. Sometimes he'd become a superficial solution-creating machine and sometimes a conservative ideologue incapable of seeing the damage his positions would do to the same voters whose problems he understood so well.
Take, for example, reasonable accommodation. He listened when people expressed a certain malaise, similar to that in the rest of the Western world. But instead of looking calmly at the complexity of the issue, he spoke in ways that encouraged the opposite reaction.
On the issue of health-care access, Dumont never failed to identify the problems. But his proposal to enlarge the private sector was mostly ideologically driven and doomed to further reduce access for those with lesser means. And so on.
Dumont was part of this new breed of career politicians, who, like Jean Charest, never did much of anything else in their adult lives. But there's one major difference in Dumont's case. He was thrown into the political cauldron by circumstances, not choice. He also sacrificed a promising career in the Liberal Party for principle. After the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Dumont, as president of the Liberal youth wing, stood up for his more autonomist vision, became persona non grata in his party, and ended up co-founding the ADQ.
This week, Dumont closed that 14-year chapter of his life. It was also a major chapter in the life of Quebec politics. In 1995, Quebec, with the support of Dumont, even came close to sovereignty. Liberals might have finally gotten him and his breakaway party out of their hair, but how many still remember why the guy had left in the first place?
But chances are that many Quebecers over 40, as opposed to many Liberals, did remember what he once stood for when they saw him this week saying "au revoir" and walking up those majestic stairs of the National Assembly. He left with his hands casually in his pockets.
As one of the passionate actors during this most effervescent and hopeful time in Quebec, he earned his right to leave with respect.
Mario Dumont has earned the respect of Quebecers
The ADQ leader was a passionate player during one of our most hopeful times