Party leaders don't often have the humility of use the word "rotten" to qualify something they've done. But that's what Mario Dumont did yesterday. And he even did it twice.
Dumont was talking about the growing breakdown in communication between voters and the Action démocratique. Dumont said "we have to make our mea culpa for having been rotten in selling our stuff."
Focused on the prospect of being thrown back to third-party status after the next general election, Dumont announced a shuffling of his shadow cabinet and promised better communications, including an eight-minute cross-Quebec weekly radio address on the Corus network. And he will send his MNAs back on the road.
In other words, for Dumont there's no problem with his party's message. It just needs to be communicated better. To do that, he said, his party needs to return to its core values - family, provincial autonomy, public finances and what he called the "reform of the health-care system" which, in effect, refers to more privatization.
Dumont is convinced those values are what got the ADQ to official opposition status. His premise is that those who voted ADQ shared its neo-conservative vision and that if it can communicate with them well enough again, they'll return to the fold.
Dumont's problem is that facts show his analysis to be highly questionable. If anything, the ADQ benefited last year less from its platform than from the perceived weakness of his two opponents: André Boisclair and the then unloved Jean Charest. When Boisclair quit and Charest got his mojo back last fall, the ADQ's fortunes went south. They plummetted farther when it became obvious that his caucus was incapable of performing as a solid official opposition.
Except for the issue of reasonable accommodation - funnily enough, Dumont didn't say a word about that yesterday - events in the last months have shown that many who voted ADQ last year didn't necessarily share its right-leaning ideas. This is why it's a risk to emphasize them more now.
By-elections might be mostly micro-climates, but last Monday's had the ADQ finishing after the left-wing Québec solidaire and Green Party in two out of three ridings. This shows anything but an enthusiastic endorsement of the ADQ's ideological leanings. When you add the growing popularity of the federal NDP in Quebec, ADQ-type visions aren't quite the saveur du jour.
Even the Charest government knows it. Although it ordered a report last year from Claude Castonguay, knowing it would suggest more private health care just as the then-popular ADQ wanted, as well as one from Joseph Facal and Claude Montmarquette on higher government fees, the government had to retreat this year. Charest knew he was facing an electorate that in reality is mostly opposed to that vision. You can be sure that if endorsing Castonguay's or Facal-Montmarquette's ADQ-style ideas would have helped Charest win more points in public opinion, he would have gone for it. But he didn't.
As for Dumont's shuffling his shadow cabinet, time will tell if that will be enough to hide one of Dumont's biggest handicaps: the overall weakness of his caucus. Yesterday, the ADQ leader used the word "team" repeatedly - something he's doesn't usually do. But there's only so much he'll be able to do with what he has.
Except for Sébastien Proulx, Gilles Taillon and Éric Caire, many of Dumont's MNAs still haven't recovered from being thrown into the complexities of having to work as a government-in-waiting. Most of them hadn't expected to be elected in the first place. If there are some hidden gems in that caucus, Dumont better bring them out soon.
Yesterday, Dumont promised to use the resources of the official opposition to "be in the regions and on the ground."
"In terms of my personality," he concluded, "the personality of our party, that's probably where we're most comfortable."
Now, there's an idea: Reconnecting with the regions on concrete issues, but going beyond ideology, would probably be more beneficial for the ADQ in the mid-term than trying to shuffle the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
The ADQ refuses to admit the voters don't like its policies
Dumont is going on a communications tour to better sell his right-wing vision