Pauline Marois only lets Montreal hairdresser Ronald Plante cut her hair.
As Mr. Plante works his magic with his brush and his hairspray, an aide to the Parti Québécois Leader tapes the scene with the video camera on her iPad. Whenever Ms. Marois goes on the road, she can show the video to one of about 30 trusted hairdressers spread out all over Quebec to replicate Mr. Plante's technique for the daily brushing of her blond hair.
The anecdote is part of a profile of Ms. Marois published this week by L'actualité, the sister publication of Maclean's in Quebec. The story paints a picture of a complex woman who loves luxury goods and looks every bit the millionaire she is, but who also grew up in a poor household and peppers her informal conversations with the occasional four-letter word.
Many Quebeckers admire the 63-year-old for surviving an attempted mutiny in her party this year, but there is still an overall reluctance when people talk about her across the province. Some Péquistes question her commitment to sovereignty, while other Quebeckers simply feel that they "can't connect" with her.
Her friends feel she is warm in private, yet acknowledge she appears distant on television. Part of the issue, in their view, is that Ms. Marois is a feminine woman in a man's world, held up to different standards than her PQ predecessors and her counterparts.
One day, after an impromptu news conference to talk about three defections in her party, one of Ms. Marois' colleagues said she looked tired on TV.
"I wasn't tired whatsoever, it's only that my hair was flat. I had gone to a nearby hairdresser, but she couldn't puff up my hair," Ms. Marois said.
Ms. Marois loves shoes, and she buys a pair on every trip. In one of dozens of interviews with journalist Noémi Mercier, Ms. Marois told how she went to a religious college in Quebec City in the 1960s, where all the girls wore uniforms. She said she felt her footwear betrayed her humble roots, her father being a mechanic while her mother cleaned houses.
"Let's say that with my cheap shoes, I stood out," Ms. Marois said.
She became a social worker and entered politics in 1981. She is the only politician in Quebec history to have been the province's minister of health, education and finance. She brings a strong-willed nature to her job and has a knack for getting her officials to deliver what she wants, including creating the province's subsidized daycare system.
"You know, kicking people's butts with round-edged boots is good, but with pointy shoes, it's even better," she said.
She feels that her wealth – she has long earned a good living while her husband made a fortune in real estate – gives her great freedom of action.
"No one can buy me. It allows me to devote myself completely to what I do," she said. "Knowing that I'm comfortable removes a big burden off my shoulders."
She added that much of her work in politics has been about offering Quebeckers "an equality of chances" in life, in addition to trying to create a new country.
"I joined the PQ in the 1970s because of the issue of sovereignty," she said. "And that's why I wake up in the morning. A woman who gives birth to a country, that would be interesting."
To achieve her dream, she still has to defeat Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest, who has obtained a second lease on life with a popular law-and-order response to student strikers this spring.
"If Quebeckers want Jean Charest, well, they can choose him," she told L'actualité, showing her anger at her opponent. "It's never a winning formula to divide Quebeckers. When you're a statesman, you don't enter into a fight with your youth, damnit."