It's been a strange marriage indeed. The bride looked terminally ill, and the bridegroom was virtual rather than real: a survey, or a promise, or maybe only a mirage.
The merger of the Action Démocratique du Québec, a small right-wing party, and François Legault's newly formed Coalition-Avenir-Québec was announced last week, providing the CAQ with another boost in polls that have been favourable for the past six months. Following the announcement, surveys by CROP and Leger Marketing yielded similar results: the CAQ would form a majority government and ravage Jean Charest's Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois if an election were held then.
The CAQ and the ADQ had one crucial characteristic in common: Both parties intend to put an end to the constitutional debate and shelve the idea of sovereignty for at least 10 years and maybe forever. This seems to be exactly what Quebec wants, after 40 years of sterile and divisive quarrels over la question nationale.
The merger had advantages for both parties. The ADQ needed a lifeline after a series of defeats and internal infighting that left it with about 2,500 members, and no prospect of a rebirth. (In a recent by-election in Bonaventure, a riding in the Gaspé peninsula, it received less than 3 per cent of the vote.)
Since it was the weaker partner (at least according to the polls), the ADQ let itself be swallowed whole by the CAQ: It couldn't salvage much of its platform, it lost its name, and the CAQ will be headed by Mr. Legault.
For the CAQ, the merger has tangible advantages. It provides the coalition, which had no seat in the National Assembly, with the four ADQ MNAs, who are experienced and dynamic parliamentarians. (Two former "adéquistes" and two MNAs elected under the PQ banner will join them in the next session.) The merger also provides the CAQ with an electoral base in a few ridings in and around Quebec City.
And the bride, as weak as it was, came with a rather nice dowry. The ADQ brought to the wedding some $800,000 a year in public subsidies for its votes in the last election. In addition, the ADQ receives $570,000 a year for its leader and house leader's staff, and $128,000 for research. All this money will be transferred to the CAQ.
Mr. Legault doesn't want to run in a by-election, so he'll have to lead the CAQ from outside the National Assembly. This will not be easy, since he'll be away from the political fray and the parliamentary press, and he might find himself occasionally overshadowed by Gérard Deltell, the ADQ's former leader, who will act as the CAQ's parliamentary leader. Mr. Deltell, a former TV journalist, is much more articulate than Mr. Legault, a poor public speaker who often has trouble expressing himself clearly – a handicap that didn't matter too much when he was a cabinet minister, but that could be a pitfall for a party leader.
From 1970 to 1976, then PQ-leader René Lévesque, who didn't have a seat in the legislature, managed, albeit with some difficulty, to lead the PQ from outside the National Assembly, but Lévesque was Lévesque – and François Legault is not.
What remains to be seen, of course, is whether the bridegroom will be able to keep his promises and deliver the resounding victory the ADQ MNAs are hoping for. Polls are just polls, voters are fickle, politics is a perpetually changing landscape and the next election – the ultimate survey – won't be called until next spring.