Pierre Karl Péladeau, the national media mogul turned provincial politician, launched his Parti Québécois leadership bid the same way he began his political career seven months ago: with a rhetorical punch declaring it's time to "make Quebec a country."
Mr. Péladeau, whose dramatic entrance into the spring election campaign was supposed to rally the PQ to victory in April but instead spooked voters, stuck to an aggressive push for independence Thursday as he announced he will run for the party leadership.
The major shareholder and former chairman of Quebecor Inc. said he wants to make Quebec independence his top priority. "I got into politics to create a sovereign Quebec and that's what I intend to do," he said.
The 53-year-old political neophyte seeks the leadership at a low point in party history. The PQ has only held power for 18 months in the past 11 years and had one of its worst showings in last spring's provincial election. Mr. Péladeau was a star candidate, but he may have done more harm than good to the PQ cause with aggressive support for independence.
Unlike in a general election, Mr. Péladeau only has to convince party faithful now and his clear line is popular among many nationalist diehards. Polls show Mr. Péladeau is the runaway favourite among PQ supporters.
Five other candidates have also announced they will run, including former cabinet ministers Jean-François Lisée and Bernard Drainville.
The party needs an overhaul, and many party stalwarts such as former PQ premier Bernard Landry see Mr. Péladeau as the strong leader to do it.
But Mr. Péladeau has already proven himself prone to error, such as his declaration recently that the PQ's federal cousin, the Bloc Québécois, had outlived its usefulness. He quickly retracted amid an outcry.
"He's gone forward and backward at the same time," Martine Ouellet, a leadership rival, told reporters in Quebec City.
Amir Khadir, a member of the National Assembly for Québec Solidaire, the left-wing, pro-independence party that has eaten PQ support, blasted Mr. Péladeau for conflict of interest as the province's most important media owner who now seeks to eventually become its most powerful politician.
Mr. Khadir also criticized Mr. Péladeau for his anti-union past, illustrating the difficulty Mr. Péladeau will have reconciling with the PQ's left-leaning, pro-labour stance.
"You don't reinvent yourself as a progressive and social democrat in a few weeks," Mr. Khadir said.
Mr. Péladeau made his announcement Thursday during a talk with students at the University of Montreal, an unusual venue for such a launch. Mr. Péladeau made a 40-minute speech in front of a blank white backdrop, but only revealed his intention to seek the leadership while answering the first question from a student.