Montreal

ADQ leader turns to religion, identity to save flailing party's fortunes

With his political party struggling in the polls, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont is playing a card that helped sweep his team into the Opposition in the 2007 election – hoping to capitalize on people's concerns about identity and values.

With his political party struggling in the polls, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont is playing a card that helped sweep his team into the Opposition in the 2007 election – hoping to capitalize on people's concerns about identity and values.

The ADQ leader has waded into the identity fray with a call for a moratorium on the province's new and controversial ethics and religious culture course, while slamming Premier Jean Charest for refusing to talk about Quebecers' identity.

A weekend speech by Dumont had all the markings of his previous election discourses on reasonable accommodation during last year's campaign when the ADQ surged into second place by winning 41 of the province's 125 ridings.

"The people who thought up this course are the same people who fight through all kind of roundabout ways to ensure there aren't any Christmas trees in the classroom," Dumont let fly to a room full of parents opposed to the new course.

"Children in primary school must first forge their own identity. You must learn about yourself to then be open towards others."

Dumont made no excuses about playing the identity card and promised to raise the issue again this week.

It's a hand that Dumont knows well, but some political observers say it's a sign the ADQ is grasping at straws as it attempts to boost support during the campaign leading to the Dec. 8 election.

ADQ failing to thrive

Antonia Maioni, a political science professor at McGill University, says the ADQ is paying the price for 18 ho-hum months in Opposition.

Maioni said it's unlikely any foray into the reasonable accommodation debate will resonate as it did in 2007.

"I don't think it's going to have too much traction this time around, partly because we've had that whole debate on one hand," Maioni said.

"On the other hand, the ADQ isn't in a position to bring forward any big new ideas of substance … they are pretty much damaged political goods and they don't seem to have much wind in their sails poll-wise."

Surrounded by a largely inexperienced group, Dumont has been unable to cement his party's place as the government in waiting.

"He failed to generate a viable Opposition party based on things like different fiscal policy," said McGill political science Prof. Jacob Levy.

"Dumont has really only shown any ability to succeed with multiculturalism and immigration issues."

Course debate a gamble for ADQ

The new religious culture course was designed to foster harmonious relations among students by introducing them to practices and traditions from around the world as well as in Quebec.

But parents have complained the mandatory course for all students except those in Grade 9 has taken away their right to choose what their children learn.

Levy calls the debate a ready-made issue for the ADQ, unlike the reasonable accommodation debate that had to be manufactured to an extent.

"Dumont isn't so much bringing the topic to the forefront as much as racing towards the front of a crowd that already exists," Levy said.

"The ethics course has been consistently unpopular among a significant segment of the population that wasn't even necessarily core ADQ rural, anti-immigrant voters."

As the ADQ attempts to revitalize its electoral base, it's not clear where the party will garner its support from.

"He has to do something if he's going to have a chance," Levy said.

Those who voted for Dumont the last time wanting change have seen very little in the past 18 months, Maioni said.

"Those who voted for the ADQ simply because of change have not really seen how that has materialized," Maioni said.

"That worked for one election and then you have to actually show that you're capable of being a change agent and a government in waiting.

"On both those counts, the ADQ has fallen short."

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