In less than a year, Mario Dumont has gone from being a premier-in-waiting courted by powerful businessmen to being perceived as a political weather vane.
The less-than-flattering "weather-vane" or "girouette" taunt came courtesy of Jean Charest and his Liberal troops. They've been using the word for months, along with every synonym in the French language. It took a while but it did catch on.
Since "girouette" was ruled non-parliamentary by the speaker of the National Assembly, the popular political humour show Infoman held a contest to find every other way the Liberals and the Péquistes could say the same thing without being overruled.
In another ratings-getter, Radio-Canada's Laflaque created an animated Dumont character with a simpleton's laugh, whose trademark is to switch opinions on a dime when someone disagrees with him. And guess what? Last week, the Dumont character ended up tied to a weather vane on the roof of a barn. Subtle? No. Effective? Yes, if you go by the polls.
This Wednesday, a CROP-La Presse poll showed that the Action démocratique has gone from its 31-per-cent support in the 2007 election to 24 per cent. Among francophones, the news was worse. The Parti Québécois stood at 41 per cent, the Liberal Party at 23 per cent, and the ADQ was barely ahead of the Liberals at 26 per cent.
When asked who would make the best premier, Pauline Marois still led with 35 per cent. But the unloved Charest now trailed her with 31 per cent, leaving Dumont, leader of the official opposition, at only 22 per cent. For the moment, Dumont is no longer seen as the premier in-waiting. Marois is.
Worst still for the ADQ were the numbers on the question of whom voters trust the most to defend Quebec's interest. Marois stood at 35 per cent and the very federalist Charest was at a surprisingly high 32 per cent.
Dumont was behind at only 21 per cent. That's a slap in the face to the leader of a party with an autonomist plank and that spearheaded the whole debate on reasonable accommodation.
While Charest has distanced himself from the prime minister, whose fortunes in the polls have been wavering in Quebec, Dumont made two tactical errors: He got too close to Stephen Harper and he continues to be unable to criticize anything the prime minister does. To be seen as too subservient to Ottawa is not exactly a winning card among Quebec voters.
A lot has been written about the obvious weaknesses of Dumont's caucus - another major factor in the ADQ's drop in support.
The bottom line is that this caucus has made a disappointing official opposition, and made the more experienced PQ look more like the real government in-waiting.
On the resurging language issue, although Dumont has asked some pertinent questions on the declining francization of newcomers, unlike Marois, he has failed so far to propose any tightening of Bill 101. And that could be a problem for Dumont.
The CROP poll showed that 59 per cent of respondents opposed Marois's bill on two-tiered Quebec citizenship for newcomers. But a massive 80 per cent said that if the PQ is elected, it would have the mandate to strengthen the status of the French language.
Although things can change, the ADQ is experiencing the reverse of the last election when it benefited from getting the votes of a number of Péquistes who couldn't stomach André Boisclair, as well as Liberals who no longer trusted Charest.
But with Marois's return, Charest's shaping up and Dumont's mistakes and lack of concrete proposals, it is Dumont who has disappointed a growing number of voters. This allowed Charest and Marois to recoup some of the supporters they had lost to the ADQ.
Last fall, a book titled L'instinct Dumont was published. Many Adéquistes must be wondering where this instinct has gone. And they must be praying hard for it to come back in time for the next election.
Mario Dumont no longer looks like the premier-in-waiting
ADQ leader's famous political instincts seem to have failed him