For four years, the Parti Québécois has had business and media magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau leading the party or waiting in the wings, a constant presence with business heft and celebrity who acts as booster, distraction and hope the party may have a future.
While Mr. Péladeau flirted again this week with a return to politics, telling Radio-Canada on Tuesday that only God knows if he might run, Quebec Liberals found a PKP of their own.
Alexandre Taillefer, the charismatic venture capitalist, TV star and launcher of causes, has announced he will chair the re-election campaign of Premier Philippe Couillard and his Liberal Party.
And just as Mr. Péladeau did when he derailed the PQ’s election campaign in 2014 at his first campaign event by declaring his fervent support for an independent Quebec, a movement the province had soured on, Mr. Taillefer also got off to a rocky start.
Speculation immediately launched that he could be an eventual replacement for Mr. Couillard, whose bid for re-election in October is languishing in the polls and whose party has lost 14 members of the National Assembly who have announced they will not run again.
Mr. Taillefer fed the speculation with leadership-style promises, saying he would haul the party back to its “grand values” of the 1960s and 70s. Unelected campaign chairs usually take more self-effacing roles and don’t often promise radical change in parties that have spent 14 of the past 15-1/2 years in office. “I am part of a party that has existed for 151 years that is capable of reinventing itself and that’s what I want to do,” he said. “Reinvent the Quebec Liberal Party.”
Mr. Taillefer’s opponents also quickly tallied up his past and present partisan entanglements: He is currently a member of the PQ and was recently a member of the Coalition Avenir Québec in addition to having recently contributed to all three main parties. Mr. Taillefer didn’t address those issues Thursday, but has in the past said he prefers to reject traditional labels.
But on Thursday, Liberals were mostly buoyed by the news, no one more than the Premier, who described the recruitment as “a hit.”
“I think younger people and less young people will see in the arrival of Alexandre Taillefer as a great element of the renewal of our team,” Mr. Couillard told reporters in Quebec City. “He represents one part of the new Quebec, an entrepreneur who takes seriously his role in social issues.”
Born in 1972, Mr. Taillefer started in business selling T-shirts to classmates at the prestigious private Collège Jean-de Brébeuf and lost no time in his early 20s starting and selling new ventures. In the late 1990s, he ran an internet business that was acquired by Mr. Péladeau’s Quebecor Inc. He worked under Mr. Péladeau until 2000 when he was passed over for promotion and set off again on his own. He also made and lost a small fortune in the dot-com bubble before starting over again.
He founded the Stingray digital music service and a small venture fund, XPND Capital. He reached a new level of fame when he starred on Quebec’s version of the business audition show Dragons’ Den for three years, ending in 2016. His highest-profile recent moves have been attempts to rejuvenate old businesses, including acquiring, overhauling and creating taxi companies and the monthly magazines, Voir and l’Actualité.
He has also faced personal turmoil, feeding an activist side. His 14-year-old son, Thomas, killed himself in December, 2015. Mr. Taillefer created a television documentary late last year exploring his son’s mental distress, missed signals and the aftermath. He has continued in an anti-suicide advocacy role.
Mr. Taillefer, a registered lobbyist, was questioned Thursday about whether his business interests are in conflict with a political role. Mr. Péladeau faced similar questions during his time in politics, and called Mr. Couillard’s immediate dismissal of such concerns “a double-standard and Liberal cheating.”
Mr. Taillefer said he would never intervene in his newsrooms. He chose the volunteer role of campaign chair over running for office so he could remain in business, he said. “As your tough questioning of me illustrates, I will have to keep my hands clean.”
He lauded the “progressive” positions of Mr. Couillard in announcing his move into politics, a statement that drew scorn from critics who watched the government cut services such as education to balance the budget early in its mandate.
Mr. Taillefer has spoken out in the past in favour of a major boost to the minimum wage and proportional representation, policies the Liberals oppose. “He’s abandoned his principles to get closer to power,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a member of the left-wing Québec Solidaire party.