Just one day after Mario Dumont announced his plan to quit Quebec politics, federal Conservatives were envisioning the prospect of luring the one-time right-wing wunderkind to Ottawa.
A household name in Quebec since the early 1990s, Dumont almost singlehandedly built the small-c conservative Action Démocratique du Québec, but announced he would resign after a disastrous election result Monday.
Several prominent Conservatives quickly indicated that the door to Ottawa remains resolutely open — should he be interested in entering.
"Mario Dumont is a principled leader who over the last 14 years advanced the small-c conservative cause in Quebec," one well-known federal Tory organizer said Tuesday.
"He would be an asset to the Conservative government in Ottawa."
Another senior federal Tory chose his words carefully when asked whether the party would approach Dumont: "I get the impression people will let him know there's room for him in Ottawa."
Dumont, 38, would offer the party its first bona-fide Quebec star in more than a decade, with infinitely more organizational experience and name recognition than the largely anonymous cast of candidates who currently fill the Conservative ranks there.
Their weakness in Quebec was underscored in the recent federal election when the Tories took a beating over relatively minor cuts to arts funding and so badly lost the public-relations war to the Bloc Québécois that it might have cost them a majority government.
While their interest in Dumont is clear, it's far from certain the man who has led the ADQ since 1994 would want to make the jump.
Over the years he has consistently shrugged off similar entreaties from Ottawa while he focused on building his own provincial party.
Move to federal politics would be a surprise
People who know Dumont say past attempts to discuss the possibility with him have met with stiff resistance.
One ally of the ADQ leader said he is far more likely to take a corporate job or teach at university than make a move to the federal level.
"As far as I can tell, he's never been interested in federal politics," a federal government source said.
"It would really be a surprise, I've never seen him express the slightest interest in federal politics."
Dumont became well-known in the province when he was head of the provincial Liberals' youth wing.
He had a spectacular rupture with the party over his preference for a drastically scaled-back federalism, under which Ottawa would relinquish a number of constitutional powers to the provinces.
Dumont campaigned for Quebec independence in the 1995 referendum but has long turned his back on sovereignty, saying Quebecers should move on to deal with more pressing matters like the economy and health-care reform.
For years he was the ADQ's only legislature member but the party mushroomed a few years ago and came within just a few seats of governing when it won 41 seats in the 2007 provincial vote.
Dumont rode a wave of right-wing populist sentiment in that election, where he exploited the debate over the so-called reasonable accommodation of immigrants to maximum political advantage.
For weeks, Quebec newspapers were awash in stories about a sugar shack that took the pork out of its pea soup to accommodate a group of visiting Muslims; about a YMCA that covered its windows to accommodate a Jewish synagogue next door; and about a small town named Hérouxville that created a Quebec values charter for immigrants.
Dumont mused that perhaps Quebec had gone too far in being accommodating — and he found a receptive audience for his message.
But the party's star quickly fizzled.
His crop of rookie members underwhelmed in its role as official Opposition, and Dumont issued a personal apology for his party's performance, calling it a growing experience.
The ADQ was reduced to seven seats in Monday's election, and Dumont tearfully declared he would not lead the party into the next campaign.