Friday, March 13, 2009

Will Mario Dumont Be Back?

Dumont's ride into the sunset may not be permanent

As the Action Democratique du Quebec looks anxiously toward its future -- a future without the only leader it has ever known -- some continue to speculate on former leader Mario Dumont's future.

Last year Lawrence Martin suspected Dumont would be named to the Senate as one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 17 new Senators. That didn't pan out.

Westmount Examiner columnist is being a little more cautious in his predictions. He expects that Dumont will be back, he just won't say how or when.

"Mario Dumont is a hero in his home town — the local lad who defied all odds to become the leader of a third political force in Quebec," Laresen writes. "He not only put Rivière-du-Loup on the map, he also served as an inspiration to many young rural Quebecers, showing them that Algeresque success is possible, given the right circumstances."

Larsen holds up two previous small-town Quebeckers -- Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, both former Prime Ministers -- as proof that there may be something to the mystique of small-town Quebecois leaders.

"Jean Chretien has always liked to refer to himself as the scrappy kid from Shawinigan, while Brian Mulroney proudly professes to be Baie-Comeau’s political wunderkind," Larsen notes. "Both claims are perfectly true, suggesting that any backwoods Quebec town can spawn a savvy, charismatic leader who has what it takes to rise to high political office."

It's worth noting, however, that both Chretien and Mulroney suffered ignominious fates in Canadian politics. Brian Mulroney backed out the back door before the Canadian people delivered his successor, Kim Campbell, a humiliating and crushing defeat.

Chretien left the Liberal party after his welcome had effectively been worn out, and with a major party-breaking scandal on the horizon. Like Mulroney, Chretien left his predecessor to face defeat, even if a decade of political fear mongering allowed the party to reduce both the scope and the immediacy of their defeat.

Yet the stories of Dumont, Chretien and Mulroney couldn't be more dissimilar in an important regard. As Larsen notes, Dumont built the ADQ from scratch, went on to win his seat in the National Assembly, and eventually transformed his party -- ever so briefly -- into a force to be reckoned with in Quebec politics.

By contrast, Chretien and Mulroney assumed the leadership of established political parties that were already on their way to governing -- a luxury that Dumont has never had.

Then again, few political leaders have ever come back from as complete a defeat as Dumont absorbed in Quebec's 2008 provincial election.

Larsen may be being overly optimistic about Dumont's chances.

"Dumont’s early retirement from political life certainly does not mean we’ll never see his name on a ballot again," Larsen surmises. "He most likely will return one day, probably when 'favourable conditions' prevail. This means he may still be the premier of Quebec one day, or even end up in Ottawa."

At Dumont's age one would be foolish to rule out a return to politics for the man formerly known as Super Mario.

But it won't happen any time soon. Furthermore, the how, when and why of his return can only be in the hands of Dumont himself.

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