The Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) is a conservative party—at least by Quebec standards. It is led by 35-year-old political wunderkind Mario Dumont. In the recent elections for the National Assembly, the ADQ shattered Quebec’s two-party system (the federalist and centrist Liberals and left-wing sovereigntist Parti Québécois), winning 31 percent of the vote (up from 18 percent in 2003) and gaining 41 seats (up from 5). The Liberals were reduced to 48 seats (from 72), and the PQ was utterly routed, being reduced to 36 seats (from 45) and garnering only 28 percent of the vote. Thus, the ADQ has formed Quebec’s first minority government since 1878. More than that, the Liberals have basically been reduced to Anglophone Montreal and its surrounding suburbs, while the PQ maintained its traditional strongholds. The ADQ, however, won across the breadth of Quebec—rural, urban, and suburban.
M. Dumont won because he asked the questions that no one has had the courage to pose since Maurice Duplessis’ old Union Nationale: What good is sovereignty when there is no culture to go with it? What good is independence when there are no people to enjoy liberty? As immigration to the province increased, the PQ sold out the Québécois by trying to compete with the Liberals for Montreal’s immigrant vote while drifting further toward cultural Marxism. This wouldn’t do for the ADQ. Indeed, one of the big issues during the campaign was the cultural impact of immigration—men banned from prenatal classes to avoid offending Muslim women; the removal of ham from traditional Québécois soup dishes; the windows at the YMCA frosted over to shield the eyes of pubescent Hasidic Jewish boys from the girls in step class; an isolated village council banning burkas, except on Halloween; Muslim cashiers at grocery stores refusing to touch items containing pork. (These problems are arising all over the United States as well.) That raises some questions: Who is supposed to conform to whom? And why should the dominant culture have to adjust itself to newcomers? Dumont echoed these sentiments on the campaign trail: “We can’t defend the Québécois identity with mushy words that no one understands. We can’t defend the Québécois identity with one knee on the ground.”
If only American politicians (besides Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul) were so bold.
Several of the ADQ candidates landed in hot water for making controversial statements in the press that were quickly declared racist and xenophobic; the ADQ won nonetheless, because Dumont refused to let the conversation be bogged down by recriminations and skillfully kept the focus on the issues.
Dumont won by talking about culture, because the debate over sovereignty in Quebec lost its meaning and its relevance when it became a struggle over taxpayer spoils. If Tom Tancredo wishes to make an impact on next year’s U.S. presidential campaign, he has to do more than just talk about immigration enforcement: He has to ask questions about immigration’s impact on the culture at large—on the way we live our lives. (Granted, that may be easier to do in a more homogenous society such as Quebec.) For years, the struggle for Quebec’s identity focused on language. However, French-speaking Muslim immigrants—or any sort of immigrant, for that matter—have a much more far-reaching impact on culture. As Conrad Yakabuski put it in the Globe and Mail,
Mr. Dumont is no Jean-Marie Le Pen, despite being smeared as a xenophobe by his Liberal adversaries. Still, he told Quebeckers again and again during this campaign that they need not ask anyone’s permission to show what it means to be Québécois. That they could assert their identity “without being afraid of passing for racists.” That’s the way it was in the old Quebec; that’s the way it will be in the new Quebec. It’s been a long time since any sovereigntist leader sounded as bold. Or as clear. It’s not some arcane fiscal advantage that Mr. Dumont is talking about when he says he wants to entrench “our values, our identity” in a Quebec constitution. No Quebec election campaign has focused so viscerally on identity—on what it means to be Québécois—since the watershed 1976 vote that first brought René Lévesque and the sovereigntists to office. Like Mr. Lévesque, Mr. Dumont has shown he knows what Quebeckers are feeling in their guts. That is to a politician what the magic potion is to Astérix.
Dumont’s autonomist position provided voters with a third way between the sovereigntists and the federalists. Most Québécois accept the fact they are a part of Canada and will not achieve total independence from her; but they wish to be left alone and not led around by the nose by Ottawa. Canadian Prime Minister Harper understands this because he and the Tory base in Alberta want the same thing. Together, Quebec and Alberta can provide a check on the power of Ontario, the Ottawa bureaucracy, and the moneyed elite of Toronto.