‘Quebec’s Le Pen’ likely to make major election gain

A young conservative populist sometimes described as Quebec’s Jean-Marie Le Pen is likely in today’s election to throw a spanner into the separatist versus federalist competition that has dominated Quebec politics for decades.

Polls indicate Mario Dumont’s Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a small fringe party for the past three elections, is about to seize the balance of power in the first minority parliament in 129 years. The ADQ has side-swiped the separatist Parti Quebecois and the ruling federalist Liberals, led by Jean Charest, by exploiting a backlash against multiculturism, especially Muslims.

A debate has developed throughout the province about what constitutes reasonable accommodation to the cultural and social practices of expanding ethnic communities. It was fuelled when, for example, a conservative Hasidic synagogue forced a sports centre to paint the windows of its swimming pool so students would not see people in swimming costumes.

Muslim headscarves and niqabs have also become a subject of controversy, especially when an 11-year-old girl was thrown out of a football match for wearing one. Quebec’s chief electoral officer has ordered that Muslim women must bare their faces if they want to vote, after an outcry over his original ruling that face coverings were acceptable.

M. Dumont, who describes himself as an autonomist wanting more power for Quebec, will probably tonight be in a position to implement many of the rightist, inward-looking policies on which he has campaigned. Both M. Charest and the Parti Quebecois leader, Andre Boisclair, seemed oblivious to the issue until polls showed M. Dumont was surging ahead.

Independent, 26 March 2007