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LYSIANE GAGNON

How the PQ’s prize candidate became a liability Add to ...

Two striking images define what’s happened so far in the Quebec election campaign.

The first image is media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau raising his clenched fist while proclaiming his entry into politics to make Quebec “a country.”

The second is Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois taking Mr. Péladeau’s place at the microphone when he attempts to answer a question directed to him during a press conference. “I’ll answer this one,” says an irritated Pauline Marois, tapping Mr. Péladeau’s shoulder to push him away.

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These two videos have been going viral on the Internet. What they showed was how quickly Ms. Marois’s prize recruit became an embarrassment.

Mr. Péladeau’s spectacular entrance into the campaign turned it upside down. His fiery call for sovereignty overshadowed the party’s message – which was supposed to cautiously avoid reference to a referendum and exclusively focus on choosing “good government.” This is the only way the PQ has ever won an election, by soft-pedalling the sovereignty issue.

In the excitement caused by Mr. Péladeau’s announcement, Ms. Marois herself went off message, cheerfully musing about what a sovereign Quebec would be like – no frontiers, dual citizenship and so on.

Not only was sovereignty suddenly at the centre of the PQ’s campaign, but Mr. Péladeau was widely perceived as a possible future party leader – one who would be forceful enough to quickly hold a referendum. That, according to the latest CROP poll, is something two-thirds of Quebeckers don’t want to hear about.

For months, there had been a persistent rumour that PKP, as Mr. Péladeau is known, had his eyes on the PQ leadership, hoping that he could become the first president of the Republic of Quebec. I heard the rumour at a social event last fall but couldn’t believe it – even though my informant was former premier Lucien Bouchard, who knows everybody in the business community and is not known as a joker. (I wasn’t able to decipher what Mr. Bouchard personally thought of PKP’s plan.)

Nobody knows whether there was some kind of a deal between Ms. Marois and PKP. Would she have agreed to pass him the crown after winning a majority? This would have spared Mr. Péladeau (whose Quebecor was called a “lockout champion” for its ruthless dealings with labour) the chore of an unpleasant leadership campaign in a party where many militants are unionized and left-leaning.

What is sure is that Ms. Marois actively wooed Mr. Péladeau to get him to run. Her view was that the presence of a hugely successful entrepreneur would reassure those in her camp who fear that sovereignty would hurt Quebec’s economy. It would also help the PQ recapture right-wing votes that went to the Coalition Avenir Québec in the last election.

But instead of adding fuel to the PQ campaign, Mr. Péladeau has actually been somewhat of a liability. The wild enthusiasm of sovereigntists, who described him as the saviour who would revive their dream, only served to scare voters.

According to a CROP poll published Tuesday, the Liberals have surged ahead of the PQ by three points and are gaining ground among francophone voters. Support for sovereignty is down four points to 38 per cent.

Now, pollsters aren’t excluding the possibility that the Liberals could win a majority.

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