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CAQ’s local rival to Pierre Karl Péladeau unfazed by competition

Coalition Avenir du Quebec candidate Patrice Charbonneau, shown in his Saint-Jerome riding, says he is confident as he faces PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau in the upcoming election Tuesday, March 11, 2014 in Saint-Jerome, Que.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A rookie politician who has taken a break from his sales job to battle Pierre Karl Peladeau is unfazed by the task of thwarting one of Canada's biggest media magnates on the campaign trail.

Patrice Charbonneau, a real-estate agent from St-Jerome, will try to cling to the seat for the Coalition party next month when he takes on the multimillionaire owner of the Quebecor Media Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) empire.

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois shook up the campaign last weekend when she named Peladeau as her superstar candidate in the swing riding of Saint-Jerome north of Montreal, a key district in her drive for a majority government.

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Peladeau's candidacy is considered a major coup for the PQ and many believe he could emerge as a powerful pro-sovereignty force in any future referendum on Quebec independence.

The mogul's first obstacle is Charbonneau.

Relatively unknown in the community, the stepfather of five plays badminton every Friday and manages his regular schedule around the one vehicle he shares with his spouse.

However, Charbonneau, who has rented a car for the campaign, warns he shouldn't be taken lightly.

He said Tuesday that unlike his parachuted opponent he knows what needs to be done in the area.

"I'll tell you one thing, if Mr. Peladeau and the Parti Quebecois underestimate Patrice Charbonneau and his team they will be making a grave error," Charbonneau, 43, told The Canadian Press in an interview metres away from the spot where Marois unveiled Peladeau on Sunday as her prized candidate.

"Yes, it's David vs. Goliath. I know that. But I think that like in the story, David can beat Goliath and he will do it."

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The area, about 50 kilometres from Montreal at the edge of the Laurentians, has elected MNAs from three different parties in the last three elections.

The Coalition snatched it from the PQ in the 2012 election thanks to its own big-name candidate: anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau. The former police officer won it in a cliffhanger by a little more than two percentage points.

When Duchesneau decided against running for the April 7 election, he left the door open for a new blood.

Charbonneau believes the key to beating Peladeau, a prominent-yet-polarizing figure in Quebec, will be listening to constituents and sharing ideas on how to address local issues, such as attracting well-paying jobs and revitalizing downtown St-Jerome.

He credited his own work as a real-estate agent, a job he started in 2009, with helping him understand community concerns through his clients.

Charbonneau, who has never met Peladeau, also says he hopes to test the entrepreneur's knowledge of the riding in a local candidates' debate.

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"I'm not intimidated at all by an eventual confrontation with Mr. Peladeau and I'm not saying this in an arrogant way," said Charbonneau, who first moved to the region in 1998.

"I'm overflowing with confidence."

On Tuesday, there were no obvious signs in the town of St-Jerome that Peladeau, who's also known in Quebec as PKP, was a candidate.

The only campaign posters in the downtown area showed the faces of Charbonneau and Marois. The Opposition Liberals, who came a distant third in the 2012 election, have yet to announce a candidate in the riding.

In his inaugural news conference Sunday, Peladeau promised to work hard for the district.

"I intend to get elected and to represent the riding of all the electors of Saint-Jerome," said Peladeau, whose prominent family has roots in the nearby Laurentians.

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