- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

HULL, Quebec A new conservative party in Quebec is threatening to destroy the province's ruling Parti Quebecois, along with the province's long-sought bid to separate from the rest of Canada.
The upstart Action Democratique of Quebec (ADQ) has just two seats in the legislature. But the party, with its demand for a 10-year moratorium on any move toward independence, suddenly finds itself at the top of public opinion polls.
"Asking the old parties to find new ideas is like asking a cow to lay an egg," ADQ leader Mario Dumont lashed out in a recent speech. "They are stuck with taboos, mired in fear and they're not able to open a new door."
The latest public opinion poll showed the ADQ with 36 percent support among Quebecers, followed by the Liberal Party with 29 percent.
Parti Quebecois' third-place finish, with 23 percent, sent party leaders into a closed-door meeting in Quebec City this week in a desperate attempt to bolster its fading image and figure out how to take on the upstart ADQ.
Mr. Dumont himself is hardly a traditional politician. He is 32 years old, the founder of the party he now leads and is calling for drastic changes in Quebec.
Among his proposals: a move to American-style for-profit health care as a way to help fight the rising costs of socialized medicine and to weaken the province's powerful labor unions by banning mandatory dues and membership.
Mr. Dumont also wants to see the premier chosen by popular vote, turn some civil servants into private contractors and reduce the voting age to 16.
Premier Bernard Landry refuses to consider a two-tier health care system, but admits Parti Quebecois needs to be "more in touch with the problems and mentalities of the day."
His Cabinet ministers have been a bit more scathing in their criticism after the ADQ's surge in popularity.
Deputy Energy Minister Rita Dionne-Marsolais said the ADQ appeals to a young generation "that thinks only of itself."
Miss Dionne-Marsolais, 55, later apologized and retracted her comments, admitting she "may have hurt or offended certain people."


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