Between family and country, Pierre Karl Péladeau chose family. When one is real and the other confined to the imagination, what else is a man to do? The separatist Parti Québécois that hailed Mr. Péladeau as its saviour is squeezed by newer rivals on the left and right. It would have a hard time winning an election, much less a referendum. For all his star power, PKP could not change that.
Mr. Péladeau entered politics with a fist pump in 2014. For a sovereigntist movement that had been in decline since its 1995 high point, when it came within a whisker of winning a plebiscite on independence, the man known to all by his initials seemed like a godsend. The arrival of the corporate titan and one-half of Quebec's most high-profile power couple (after Celine Dion and her late manager-husband René Angélil) in the PQ provoked jubilation among sovereigntist hardliners and panic in Ottawa.
It didn't last a fortnight. The new PQ recruit's defiant profession of faith in Quebec independence, after repeatedly insisting he was agnostic on the issue, helped cost the party the provincial election it appeared poised to win when the campaign began. The more the prospect of a divisive third referendum became the election's effective ballot question, rather than which party would govern best, the more Quebeckers said no thank you.
It did not stop the sovereigntist movement's old guard from believing that with Mr. Péladeau leading the party, officially replacing the uninspiring Pauline Marois only a year ago this month, everything would change. Recalling Lucien Bouchard in the 1995 referendum campaign, they insisted the right leader and events could persuade enough Quebeckers to make the sovereigntist leap.
By all accounts, Mr. Péladeau was not that leader. Neither charismatic (like Mr. Bouchard) nor relatable (like PQ founder René Lévesque), Mr. Péladeau was no political natural. No one in the PQ doubted his commitment to the sovereigntist cause – unlike the second-guessing that plagued Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Lévesque – but a former union-busting CEO was not exactly an uncontroversial choice to lead a social democratic party. His my-way-or-the-highway management style did not help matters.
Mr. Péladeau may have thought he could run the PQ the way he ran his company, even if he was at odds with his party's base on almost everything but sovereignty. His initial plan had been to recapture the soft-nationalist supporters who had fled the PQ over the years for the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec, at the risk of alienating many in his own caucus.
Mr. Péladeau's latest gambit – calling last month for a "convergence" between the PQ and the sovereigntist but much more left-wing Québec Solidaire to run a single-slate of separatist candidates in the next election – was problematic to say the least. For Québec Solidaire, sovereignty is meaningless unless accompanied by its very own Leap Manifesto. Mr. Péladeau was hoping to imitate the strategy adopted by separatist but ideologically different parties in Spain's Catalonia, which co-operate to advance their region's independence drive. But Québec Solidaire's leaders gave him the cold shoulder.
With Mr. Péladeau gone, the PQ is likely to veer further left, especially if one of the potential replacements whose names were evoked on Monday ends up as leader. But that would not make its electoral math any easier. Quebec progressives, especially young ones, now identify with Québec Solidaire, while the CAQ has outflanked the PQ on identity politics, recently forcing the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard to back down on a proposed increase in immigration levels.
Mr. Péladeau's departure pushes the sovereignty movement closer to death – not that it wasn't heading there anyway. A movement dominated by union activists and separatist Leapers, whether from the PQ or Québec Solidaire, has no traction outside a few urban enclaves. The CAQ's third-way between the Liberals' Canadian-flag-waving federalism and a sovereigntist leap in the dark seems to be the sweet spot in the francophone Québécois psyche outside Montreal. The Liberals monopolize the non-francophone vote.
Political realignments can take time to set. Mr. Péladeau may have just accelerated the process.