Both of Quebec's major political parties received the equivalent of a slap in the face when a group of former politicians and business people started to float the idea that the time was ripe for a new party that would regroup federalists and sovereigntists around a centre-right agenda, leaving the "national question" aside. This reflects badly on the Parti Québécois because the two most active proponents of the idea are former PQ ministers - François Legault and Joseph Facal. And this reflects equally badly on the Liberals since they're usually the party of choice for right-leaning voters.
As vague as it is, the idea of a "third force" immediately captured Quebeckers' attention. According to Léger Marketing, 46 per cent of those polled would support such a party and 30 per cent would vote for it. The enthusiasm is premature, to say the least, since the movement has hardly begun, but it says a great deal about the voters' disenchantment with active politicians. It also says much about the underlying desire to stop arguing about sovereignty so elected officials could focus all their energies on solving the province's economic problems.
Until now, the idea has generated more talk than action. Mr. Legault has met a number of people, including Liberal businessman Charles Sirois and former Conservative minister Michael Fortier, but he still hasn't been able to recruit high-profile federalists to openly support his projected coalition. Former premier Lucien Bouchard, a Conservative at heart whose belief in sovereignty has considerably weakened since the 1995 referendum, is behind the initiative, but it's doubtful whether he'd return to politics. For now, the major network Mr. Legault can count on is the group of prominent citizens nicknamed "the Lucids" that rallied around Mr. Bouchard in 2005 to call for austerity measures.
Mr. Legault, an accountant who made money in the private sector before going into politics (he was a founder and CEO of Air Transat), is well liked by 54 per cent of the Léger respondents, but he's not a charismatic leader. He made no major gaffes - but didn't shine - in the three portfolios he held under PQ governments. In 2005, he stopped his campaign for the PQ leadership when polls showed that André Boisclair was practically a shoo-in for the job.
Another problem that would challenge a centre-right party is that, even though Quebeckers like the idea of a new force, many would balk at a political program based on fiscal restraint. Throughout their seven years in office, Jean Charest's Liberals were unable to implement such an agenda, and haven't even dared raise the rates for electricity, something that practically all economists urge them to do. Recently, all it took was the prospect of a coming by-election for Finance Minister Raymond Bachand to shelve a plan to impose user fees for medical visits.
Mr. Legault's brainchild looks like ADQ redux. The Action Démocratique du Québec, the near-extinct third party founded by Mario Dumont, was also based on a centre-right agenda and a moderate nationalist approach (for most of its life, it didn't even take sides in the sovereignty debate). The difference is, Mr. Legault's movement was born in Montreal and might eventually attract more high-profile personalities than the ADQ, whose scope was limited to eastern Quebec and whose only strong representative was Mr. Dumont himself (who's now a TV talk-show host after his party's poor performance in the last election).