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Cablegate: Adq's Mario Dumont Predicts Uphill Battle for Jean Charest

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

091825Z Mar 04

UNCLAS QUEBEC 000046

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CAN TERRY BREESE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL CA
SUBJECT: ADQ'S MARIO DUMONT PREDICTS UPHILL BATTLE FOR JEAN CHAREST


1. (U) Summary: The Quebec Assembly resumed March 9 and
Action Democratique's Mario Dumont foresees major struggles for
the Liberal government. The stage is set for fiery labor
negotiations with public sector employees and the upcoming
provincial budget may not generate the big tax cuts promised
earlier by Charest. After almost one year in power the
Liberals have dipped drastically in the polls, with now only 30%
of overall support. Young Dumont appears to have fully
recovered from his unsatisfactory electoral performance last
year and is ready to take on the Charest government. End
Summary.

2. (U) March 8 -- the eve of the reopening of the Quebec
legislature after a three-month break -- CG and PolAsst met with
Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ) leader Mario Dumont. Dumont
has a unique insider's view of the National Assembly in his 10
years as an MNA, and has seen 3 governments come and go. He
also has an outsider's perspective. The ADQ is not recognized as
a political party in the Assembly. Despite winning over 18
percent of the vote in the last election, Dumont still only
gained 4 seats, so that he has very little time accorded for
questions on the floor.

3. (U) Dumont predicted an uphill battle for Premier Charest
in the upcoming session. He faces stormy labor negotiations
with 500,000 public sector employees, controversy over his
electoral reform bill, a budget which will be difficult to
balance, resistance to efforts to reengineer the Quebec Model,
and skepticism over nebulous round-tables on health, education,
family and regional development. In addition, referendums on
municipal demergers loom as a source of contention in June.

4. (SBU) Reviewing Charest's last few months in office,
Dumont concluded that his mantra of "I have a mandate" is not
shared by most Quebecers, who are unsure of the mandate, and
confused as to whether Charest is really a Liberal. Dumont
cited the mishandling of the Mohawk crisis in Kanesatake and the
announcement of the construction of the Suroit natural gas
project, now postponed, as critical mistakes. In Quebec,
hydroelectricity has an almost mythic value among Quebecers.
The PLQ government's decision to go ahead with the gas project
despite massive public protest is a monumental political error,
said Dumont, since polls showed an estimated 90% of Quebecers
were against it. The Suroit debacle has had an extremely
negative impact on the PLQ government's credibility: a large
number of party members were unwilling to back the government at
the Liberal general council meeting held a few weeks ago, he
added. Dumont was equally critical of the performance of
Natural Resources Minister Sam Hamad, whom he accused of
amateurism and inexperience. Regarding Kanesatake, Dumont
thought there was a negative public perception that Chief
Gabriel had been abandoned by the provincial government.

5. (SBU) On relations with the unions, Dumont predicted
widespread confrontation with public sector employees. The
provincial Liberals were elected with labor union support but
less than a year after taking office, the government is
confronting these same elements. The barely 30% voter
satisfaction levels show Liberal campaign promises and the math
do not add up. In Dumont's view, Charest has a 3- week window
of opportunity to make some points with Quebec voters before
federal elections are announced for May or June. Public
attention cannot be split between provincial politics and the
electoral campaign, he concluded. The sponsorship scandals
would continue to be a distraction. Charest's hands are tied
because he cannot defend Ottawa. It is "revolting" for
Quebecers, said Dumont, to be enmeshed in a scandal over misuse
of federal funds for a program they did not want, but sensed was
ongoing. "No-one in Quebec ever thought a few Canadian flags
scattered across the province could ever change deeply rooted
political views among voters. But everyone knew before the
Auditor General's report that there was something wrong: the
report only revealed the scope of it."

6. (SBU) Comment: Despite his relative youth (34) Dumont is a
political veteran and a savvy analyst, particularly of budget
and economic issues. He seems to have regained his enthusiasm
for politics, after the ADQ's disappointing showing in the April
2003 elections. His own party has scaled back its vision
considerably. Dumont said in the upcoming session, the ADQ
would focus on legislation to protect essential services such as
day care and public transportation, especially for the elderly
who are dependent on this service to obtain medical care (32
percent of the population of Montreal depend on public
transportation, he estimated). Despite his limited
representation in the Assembly, he remains a force to be
reckoned with.

KEOGH

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