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Wary but blunt, CAQ leader’s wife learning the ropes on campaign trail

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault walks with his wife Isabelle Brais during an election campaign stop in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., on Aug. 8, 2012.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After François Legault introduced his top women candidates in the Quebec campaign, Isabelle Brais got in line with the reporters to ask him a question."Will you sign up for cooking classes?" Ms. Brais asked at the media microphone.

"Yes, dear," the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec answered.

Mr. Legault and Ms. Brais have been together for 22 years. While Mr. Legault has been in politics for 14 of those, the current election campaign marks the arrival of his businesswoman wife in the public eye.

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Ms. Brais is blunt, direct and funny. Regarding her husband's abilities in the kitchen, she said he is only good at bringing breakfast-in-bed. Her question at the news conference was in reference to a campaign stop at a cooking class where he struggled with a knife and a turnip.

Still, she is only learning the ropes of her new role as a political spouse. She self-deprecatingly referred to herself as a "flower pot" in an informal conversation with journalists on Monday.

"I would have run for public office had I wanted to speak publicly," Ms. Brais said.

Ms. Brais has been at Mr. Legault's side since the end of last week's debates as Mr. Legault eats poutine in a roadside restaurants or plays tennis in front of the cameras. The CAQ appeals to many Quebeckers seeking change, but the party still needs to attract new supporters, especially women, if it wants to form the next government. According to a mid-campaign poll by CROP, the CAQ has an 8-point deficit among women compared to men.

Ms. Brais' presence on the campaign trail humanizes Mr. Legault, a long-time private sector executive who is promising to cut thousands of government jobs. She is his staunchest supporter, describing him as a man who is solid and honest, an extraordinary father to their two boys, and "the best negotiator that I have ever seen."

She insists that Mr. Legault wants to redirect government spending toward education and health care, rejecting the notion that the CAQ has a right-wing agenda that frightens some women voters.

Ms. Brais has taken a break from her full-time job as the owner of a high-end boutique in Montreal that sells Canadian-designed and made women's clothing.

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The 55-year-old Mr. Legault has promised to dedicate the next 10 years of his life to politics. Ms. Brais could soon have to play an even bigger role in Mr. Legault's career, especially if he becomes premier or leader of the opposition at the National Assembly.

Still, she is planning on returning to her usual life after Sept. 4. She said that she will be present at her husband's side when it is necessary, but she wants to focus on her store, called "Une Île en Amérique."

She added that she remains uneasy with the spotlight, saying she doesn't want to become a public personality. "I don't like to be recognized," she said.

She said that her model would be Michelle Obama, the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"I find her extraordinary," Ms. Brais said, adding that she doesn't have the First Lady's political abilities. "She'd be as able as he is to be the president of the United States."

After speaking with reporters for a few minutes after the end of the news conference, Ms. Brais decided to return to the protective bubble on the campaign bus.

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"That's enough, I am going to get scolded," she said.

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