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Quebec comedian Guy Nantel speaks to the media after announcing his candidacy for the leadership of the Parti Québécois on Feb. 13, 2020 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A well-known comedian launched his campaign for the leadership of the Parti Québécois on Thursday by joking that he has been called a “clown in a party of clowns.”

Guy Nantel is well known in Quebec for his stand-up shows and vox pops, during which he quizzes hapless Quebeckers on the politics of the day. But instead of making jokes, he is now promising to launch a referendum on Quebec sovereignty in his first mandate as premier.

The 51-year-old comedian said he’s never hidden the fact he is a Quebec sovereigntist, adding he doesn’t think his comedic past will get in the way of his goal of becoming leader of the PQ, which advocates for Quebec independence.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a school teacher before entering politics and François Paradis, Speaker of Quebec’s legislature, was once a TV show host, Mr. Nantel said. “So I don’t see why comedians would need an extra step to climb,” he told reporters at the party’s headquarters in Montreal.

He said he dreams of launching a large “project for society” to which Quebeckers can adhere and wants to reinforce the French language in North America.

Mr. Nantel said his platform will reflect such themes as equality of the sexes, integration of newcomers, protections for the LGBTQ community and environmentalism.

“I am not a conventional politician,” he said. But, he added, “I have qualities that others don’t – an ability to communicate directly with the public, with the people, to be close to people.”

He said he wants to run a clean campaign, but added his opponents were already going after him.

Mr. Nantel said there was “pressure, probably from other teams” to have all his 2020 shows cancelled if he ran for the leadership.

When that didn’t work, he said, “they wanted to make all my comedy show expenses be counted as campaign expenses.” But, he said, Quebec’s electoral officer has given him the green light to keep making Quebeckers laugh, even as he seeks the PQ leadership.

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Three other candidates are vying to replace Jean-François Lisée, who led his party to a disappointing showing in the 2018 election, losing 18 seats and finishing tied for third place. The PQ has since lost a member and is now the fourth party, with nine seats, behind Québec solidaire.

The party’s new leader will be chosen on June 19.

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