QUEBEC - The merger between a popular new Quebec political party and the small Action democratique du Quebec came closer to being a done deal on Tuesday.
Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition For Quebec's Future, says an agreement in principle has been reached to merge his party with the ADQ.
The ADQ's four-person caucus in the legislature, including Leader Gerard Deltell, have already embraced the merger and they will switch to Coalition colours once the merger is finalized.
There is also a possibility that four Independent legislature members will also join the Coalition.
"I hope that some Liberal members see the light," Legault said.
The ADQ has been around for two decades but, aside from one close election under ex-leader Mario Dumont, the party has not been a major factor in the province's politics.
Now ADQ members will get the final say in a mail-in ballot, between now and mid-January, over whether their party should disappear in order to join the high-flying Legault.
The Coalition has been leading Premier Jean Charest's Liberals and the Opposition Parti Quebecois in public opinion polls for several months — even before the Coalition became an official party.
The party was initially billed as right wing but, in preparing its party platform, has tacked to the centre. The ADQ has historically taken more conservative positions, such as endorsing school vouchers and private health care.
The one thing they share in common: agnosticism on the independence question. Both parties would accept separatist and federalist members, and believe it's simply time to put the sovereignty debate aside.
That's been the ADQ position for about a decade.
Now Legault, who comes from the PQ and was a prominent cabinet minister, has created a party designed to attract supporters from both sides of the sovereigntist divide, with a new logo that carries a rainbow-like array of colours and a party name that explicitly includes the word, "coalition."
Deltell described the merger as "good for Quebec."
Sources have told The Canadian Press that the ADQ's executive massively supported it at a meeting Monday night.
Deltell said the Coalition and the ADQ already see eye-to-eye on many issues, although there were some concessions.
These include the Coalition supporting an experiment allowing certain doctors to work in both the private and public health-care systems.
Another involves financial help for families who do not have access to Quebec's subsidized daycare system — similar to the federal Tories' $100-a-month cheques for parents.
Legault, asked on Tuesday if he's a federalist or a separatist, said he's a "nationalist" as well as a "pragmatist."
"I want to get away from these labels," he said, referring to how politicians are described as being on the right or the left. "The majority of Quebecers are right where we are."
Legault said he expects Charest to call an election soon.
"The possibilities are very strong there will be an election between now and the spring," Legault said, saying Charest appears "nervous" and is attacking him to hold on to power.
Charest entered the fourth year of his current mandate this month and can go five years before he has to call an election.
Once the deal with the ADQ is finalized, Deltell would serve as the party's house leader in the legislature because Legault doesn't have a seat.
Legault said the next step will be to build a team of 125 candidates and recruit members.
An organization must also be built across Quebec and the party's program has to be finalized.
The party also has to raise money.
Although it will be getting a $780,000 annual subsidy from the province's chief electoral officer that is currently being given to the ADQ, it will also take on the disappearing party's $600,000 debt.