MONTREAL - With Mario Dumont's bittersweet departure from politics confirmed, the Action democratique du Quebec's future is clouded by uncertainty as it ponders life without the man who has led the party since 1994.
Dumont, who in happier times was nicknamed Super Mario, said he is stepping down as ADQ leader with a certain sense of failure because he never led the party to power.
But Dumont, 38, insists he is still proud of his track record, which officially ends on March 6
"There is a feeling of failure of course in never having been in power," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "But at the same time, I think I've changed the political debate in Quebec.
"I think I've installed a new political voice in the landscape."
But some political scientists believe that voice may about to be silenced.
"The party has never really had to choose a leader so they're making up the rules as they go along," said Antonia Maioni, a political scientist at McGill University.
"They'll probably have some sort of choice in the fall, but I don't even know if the party is going to get to the fall."
Maioni said Dumont's departure could signal a return to the traditional Liberal-Parti Quebecois stranglehold that has been the norm in Quebec, with the exception of the 2007 election when the ADQ powered to official Opposition status by winning 41 of the province's 125 ridings.
"The ADQ has more or less run its course in trying to become the third party that takes the place of one of the major parties," Maioni said.
Possible successors include Eric Caire and Francois Bonnardel, who are both ADQ members of the legislature, as well as former member Christian Levesque. None of them has anywhere near Dumont's profile.
Dumont's departure comes as no surprise as he announced he'd step down after the ADQ's crushing defeat in the provincial election last December when it won only seven seats.
The party will also have to change its name as its current official title is Action democratique du Quebec /Equipe Mario Dumont.
In the interim, a caretaker leader will be named from one of the ADQ's six remaining elected members.
But apart from some kicking at the tires, nobody has formally entered the fray to be Dumont's successor.
Universite de Montreal political scientist Pierre Martin said those being bandied about as possible replacements have big shoes to fill.
"Mario Dumont had this advantage in that he was the charismatic leader who could actually be relatively fuzzy on policy positioning because people trusted him to make the right choices," Martin said.
"A new leader would have to come with this capital of trust that took Mario Dumont years to build, and that in my view would be extremely difficult to find."
Dumont said he is taking a job in the private sector in Montreal but refused to elaborate, preferring to let his new employer make the announcement later this week.
Dumont is also relinquishing the Riviere-de-Loup seat he has held since 1994.
"I want to express to you my admiration for all ADQ members and the high esteem in which I hold them..... for their strength of conviction and their love of Quebec," he said in a letter to the party president.
"I wish you the best of luck in the future."
Dumont won't be in the legislature when it reconvenes March 10, but he said tributes and ceremonies are not his style.
Dumont also said he wants his next job to create some distance from politics, which is why he didn't pursue overtures from the Conservatives to run federally in Quebec.
"I was not looking for a political job," said Dumont, adding he is happy to be turning the page and that his political career is over - for now.
But he could not rule out a return down the road.
The ADQ brass will determine when to hold a leadership race.
(With files from Martin Ouellet in Quebec City)