Mario Dumont (Interview)

JUST TWO YEARS AGO, Mario Dumont was the golden boy of Canadian politics.

Dumont, Mario (Interview)

JUST TWO YEARS AGO, Mario Dumont was the golden boy of Canadian politics. His fledgling, small-c conservative Action Démocratique du Québec was running high in the polls, and the young and dashing Dumont made a strong impression in English Canada with his promise not to support another referendum on separation. Then the wheels fell off the ADQ's campaign for provincial power and Dumont fell off the national radar. Now he's back making headlines after his party adopted an "autonomist" platform at its recent convention, promising to wrest more power for Quebec, whether Canada likes it or not. What changed?

So you want to become the Ralph Nader of Quebec politics?

To divide the vote, you mean? No! We want to conquer the vote.

Why, then, would you come up with a new constitutional proposal? Voters aren't exactly clamouring for one.

Constitutional politics is not a favourite issue, that's for sure. But to become the government, we must have a clear position. We also needed a label. People saw us as in-between: less nationalist than the PQ, less federalist than the Liberals. Now they know where we stand: we're Quebec autonomists.

Describe what that means.

First, we don't advocate a rupture with Canada. Those who want that already have a party. But we're not satisfied with the Canada of 1982. We want more control for Quebec - and for other provinces that want it.

What makes you think English Canada would be prepared to listen?

We're not confrontational. It's not a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. And the safest way to avoid another cycle of referendums would be to elect a government that would make the nationalists feel confident Quebec is moving ahead inside Canada. We also know there are people elsewhere in Canada who seek decentralization. Canada is not a monolithic country. What we say has an echo in the Conservative party and in the West.

Two years ago you were posing in front of the Maple Leaf, singing a different song.

What I said then is no different. I said we don't want another referendum. I also said the old strategy of Quebec being a mute participant in Canada was over. I said we'd be active in policy debates. That still holds.

How have conditions changed since then?

The Parti Québécois was defeated, that's a major element. Old-fashioned SEPARATISM has little appeal for younger voters. And there's a minority government in Ottawa. The big question is whether Paul Martin is really more respectful of the provinces than Mr. Chrétien was. We've also learned some things. When we were ahead in the polls, we came under heavy fire, and we neglected to respond. That was a mistake. We'll be much tougher in the future.

Maclean's October 11, 2004