Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parallels In History: Dumont's ADQ vs. Carstairs' Liberals

I was thinking a little bit tonight and it clicked into my head the idea of history repeating itself. While it may repeat, it isn't always necessarily in the same place, is it? Nor with the same people.

Take for instance, the gradual rise and fall of Mario Dumont's Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ). Started in 1994 between Dumont and some other collaborators who were upset with the Parti Liberal (PLQ) establishment, the party was a minor blip on the radar for years. Dumont was the party's only Member until 2003, and even then they were only able to elect three more. The party was, essentially, a novelty in a two-party province.

This reminds me, of another party that faced the same situation two provinces over. The Manitoba Liberals last held power with Douglas Campbell in 1958. In that year's election, the Liberals, who governed from the right, were swept away from office as the centre-left Progressive Conservatives took over. The Liberals continued to be the main Opposition for years, though not much of one, until 1969, when they were denied even that position as Ed Schreyer's NDP was swept into office, and the Tories were sent into Official Opposition. After that election, and until 1988, the Liberals failed to elect over 5 Members.

So, as described, both the ADQ and the Liberals were these relatively minor parties in provinces where two main parties battled it out - the PLQ and the Parti Quebecois (PQ) in Quebec, and the NDP and Tories in Manitoba. We can clearly see the historical parallel here.

But, there is even closer tie in the history of these parties. It has to do with the results of elections in 1988 and 2007, then 1990 and 2008, respectively.

In 2007, there was a huge electoral surprise in Quebec. The governing PLQ, which was riding low in the polls, lost their majority mandate from 2003 and were sent into a minority government. What was so surprising about it, though, was which party was the Official Opposition - Mario Dumont and the ADQ. They won seats on the backs of both Liberals, but more so the PQ, who lost with their poor choice of leadership in Andre Bosclair. The official results were PLQ 48, ADQ 41, PQ 36. I remember it from the top of my head - that is how big of a surprise it was. Indeed, some called it a "fundamental shift in the province's politics."

In 1988, after 7 years of government, Howard Pawley's NDP was brought down by a rogue member in March 1988 - two years after winning a slim majority. Unlike the PLQ, the NDP did not maintain government. In fact, they were sent back into third place - behind the victorious Tories, and the neophyte Liberals under Sharon Carstairs. The results were PC 25, Liberal 20, and NDP 12 - another minority government and, indeed, another "fundamental shift."

Back in the sort-of present day, the ADQ were the Official Opposition against what was essentially an unloved government. Premier Jean Charest certainly wasn't a favourite, though Quebeckers eventually learned to tolerate. Meanwhile, the PQ changed leaders to someone more effective, namely Pauline Marois. Then the economy goes down the drains. The PLQ presents a plan. The PQ present a plan. The only people who don't - the ADQ. Indeed, the ADQ were seen as an ineffective and inexperienced Opposition where it wasn't tolerated, and the PQ ran over them easily in the process.

In Carstairs' Liberals time as the Official Opposition, things were continuing to deteriorate. There wasn't a major concern over the economy at the time, as this was during the Meech Lake Accord and other failed endeavours. The Liberals were seen as ineffective, and the NDP, reinvigorated by the leadership of Gary Doer, presented themselves as the more plausible and responsible Opposition. It wasn't a good time for the Liberals.

Subsequently, the minority governments of the day were called by the Premiers. In 2008, after a year and a half of humiliation, the ADQ once again ended up in third place, as the PLQ secured another majority, and the PQ took back their vote. Similarly, in 1990, the Liberals were knocked from 20 to 7 seats, falling far behind the Opposition NDP and the Tories, who gained a majority government. Both parties were seen as storming the beachheads of provincial politics - both parties were gutted the next election.

And if that wasn't enough of a parallel, it continues. After 2008, the ADQ got a new leader, but soon the party started falling apart. Members deserted the ADQ's small 7 member caucus because of a rift in the leadership, and I believe that right now, only 3 or 4 remain.

The same occurred with the Liberals in Manitoba. Carstairs was forced out, and there was a battle over the leadership. A couple of members left, and the party fell apart. It doesn't look as if it will be coming back any time soon, either.

I think this serves as a warning to other third parties that think they're all that, and more. History repeats - and it doesn't care who or where you are.

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