The merger between the Action démocratique du Québec party and the newly created Coalition-Avenir-Québec, to be announced on Tuesday, marks a new beginning for conservative forces in the province.
Close to eighteen years after its formation, the ADQ is prepared to disband and join the ranks of the centre-right coalition party launched last month by former Parti Québécois minister François Legault.
About 30 members of the ADQ executive met Monday night to ratify the agreement in principle that was concluded last weekend between Mr. Legault and ADQ Leader Gérard Deltell. While the ADQ refused to call the move a takeover by the CAQ, the end result places Mr. Deltell's party organization and his caucus members squarely under the leadership of Mr. Legault.
"We didn't go to the bargaining table on our knees," insisted ADQ vice-president of communications Richard Thibault. "We had leverage and the coalition knew that we had a lot to offer."
The final deal will still have to be accepted by a majority of the ADQ's 13,000 members in January for the merger to be finalized.
Nor is there certainty that the eight pro-Legault MNAs will be recognized as a formal caucus by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacques Chagnon. There is no precedent in Quebec where members under a recognized political party in the legislature disband to join a new party that has yet to elect a member.
The ADQ has faced an uphill battle in recent years. After reducing Premier Jean Charest's Liberals to minority government status and forming the official opposition in the 2007 election, it was reduced to just seven members from 41 members in the 2008 election. Two of them have since quit the caucus, and another seat was lost in a by-election.
The party came close to collapsing in 2009 during the ensuing race to replace outgoing leader Mario Dumont, creating divisions from which it has never totally recovered.
Mr. Legault's emergence on the political scene appeared to be the only salvation defending many right-wing ideals.
But not everyone in the ADQ supports the merger. A few ADQ executive members remain distrustful of Mr. Legault and hesitant about handing over their party to a coalition which failed to embrace all the ADQ's right-wing positions, especially those calling for less government intervention in the economy.
"The ADQ has always been a party that supported less government and more individual initiatives, whereas the CAQ wants more efficient government solutions," Adrien Pouliot, vice-president of the ADQ political commission, said during a Radio-Canada interview where he expressed opposition to the deal. Another party executive member, Claude Garcia, also plans to vote against the merger.
But Mr. Deltell has insisted that a merger would be mutually beneficial. Mr. Thibault added that the vast majority of the ADQ program was supported by Mr. Legault. "There's at least 80 per cent of the ADQ's policies that are part of Mr. Legault's program," Mr. Thibault insisted. He also noted that Mr. Legault has opened the door to more privatization of health-care services, something he had been reluctant to support.
Mr. Legault's party will inherit the ADQ's $600,000 debt. In return, it will be eligible to receive the $800,000-a-year public funding from the province's chief electoral officer. Moreover, the CAQ will gain a voice in the National Assembly through the current four ADQ members. Another four independent-sitting members were poised to join Mr. Legault's party – the two former ADQ MNAs, as well as two former PQ members.
Mr. Chagnon will be entering unchartered waters when he decides the fate of the ADQ members when the National Assembly reconvenes in February. If he refuses to recognize the pro-CAQ MNAs as an official caucus, the ADQ members will have no choice but to sit as independent members. And that would mean forfeiting close to $500,000 a year that the ADQ currently receives as a recognized opposition party in the National Assembly.