The fall of the ADQ

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National Post, Friday, November 13, 2009

In the last week, we've witnessed a remarkable sight -- the implosion of a political party, the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ), that only two years ago stood on the doorstep of government as the official opposition in a minority legislature.

In last year's election, the ADQ was reduced from 41 to 7 seats in Quebec's National Assembly, while Jean Charest's Liberals were restored to majority status. Then the founding father of the ADQ, Mario Dumont, walked away from politics, leaving his seat in Riviere-du-Loup up for grabs. The Liberals won the byelection. The ADQ finished third in Mario's backyard.

But in the last week, the gradual disintegration of the ADQ was transformed into a complete collapse, as internal tensions over the leadership and party fund raising exploded into the open. Last Friday, two MNAs, Eric Caire and Marc Picard, abruptly quit the ADQ to sit as independents. Only three weeks earlier, Caire had lost the leadership to Gilles Taillon by a single vote.

Then on Monday, party president Michel Charpentier resigned after the TVA network disclosed he was a donor to Taillon's leadership campaign, when he was supposed to be a neutral official. On Tuesday, Taillon himself quit as leader, saying he couldn't stomach any more of the ADQ's "sterile infighting." On his way out the door, he called for a police investigation of the ADQ's finances, saying he had "also discovered certain somewhat troubling aspects in the management of party finances since 2003."

And who was the ADQ's principal bagman from 2003 until last December's election? Leo Housakos, whom Stephen Harper named to the Senate shortly thereafter. Soon after his election as party leader, Taillon had apparently informed Housakos that the ADQ would be severing its unofficial links to the Conservatives.

Actually, Taillon was doing Harper a favour. Only Housakos and a handful of delusional members of Harper's close entourage had any sense that the ADQ, in its present state of disrepair, could deliver anything for the Conservatives at the federal level.

And the proof of that was apparent in Monday's federal byelection in Montmagny-l'Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup, again right in Mario's backyard. The Conservative upset win over the Bloc was entirely secured by candidate Bernard Genereux's ground game. His Get Out the Vote (GOTV) organization delivered four voters to the polls for every one brought out by the Bloc. On Monday, Conservative organizer Joseph Soares privately predicted his candidate would steal the riding by 300 votes. In the end, Genereux won by nearly 1,500 votes, five full points ahead of the Bloc's Nancy Gagnon.

The collapse of the Liberal vote to the Conservatives as the "Block the Bloc" party didn't hurt. And neither did the support of Charest and the

Quebec Liberal machine -- all three provincial ridings are held by the Liberals, all of whom supported the Conservatives.

The remnants of Mario's organization offered up their support to the Conservatives, but were politely informed their help wasn't needed. Conservative organizers didn't want to alienate the Quebec Liberals, whose help they did need, by including people who couldn't offer them anything.

Every victory has a thousand fathers, but it wasn't the ADQ guys around Harper who won this by-election, it was the folks on the ground in Riviere-du-Loup, notably Ghyslain Maltais, a former Liberal MNA who is Lawrence Cannon's chief organizer. It's very simple -- byelections are all about turnout, turnout is all about ground game and the provincial Liberals are the only federalist formation that has one. Not for nothing is it known as the Big Red Machine. And on Monday, Charest delivered impressively for Harper.

The win in Riviere-du-Loup is a game changer that will have a ripple effect throughout the 22 ridings of area 418 in eastern Quebec. The Conservatives now hold nine of them, the Bloc have the rest. A beachhead has been established for a new front.

And it wasn't the ADQ's doing. A party that was once a political force is now a political farce.

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