Widely expected to soon declare his bid to become leader of the separatist Parti Québécois, media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau may find the road to power fraught with pitfalls.
But with every new poll that shows the public supports him, his influence over the moribund independence movement grows.
Only a few weeks ago, it seemed unlikely that the multimillionaire would win the backing of social democratic Péquistes with an aversion to his free-market, anti-union credentials. Now, it appears possible that many who oppose him ideologically may move onside for the greater goal of fighting for a separate Quebec.
"If I was predicting right now, I would say Péladeau could actually win" the PQ leadership contest, said Concordia University political scientist Bruce Hicks. "Every time a public opinion poll says he is this popular, it's boosting him because while the PQ membership is down to its rump, they also want ultimately to get independence. And if they think Péladeau can give them independence, I think they'll hold their nose and vote for him."
A new poll published over the weekend by Leger Marketing shows a Péladeau-led PQ would defeat Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberals in an election, winning 36 per cent of voting intentions versus the Liberals' 30 per cent. His leadership would give the PQ a 10-percentage-point boost over its current popular support, the survey of 981 people found.
The Leger results echo those of similar polls in recent months that show Mr. Péladeau with a significant lead over his main rivals in the leadership contest. But this survey is key in that it shows unequivocally that he is the only one that can raise the party's voter support levels.
"Mr. Péladeau, in several ways, is sort of in a league of his own," said Christian Bourque, senior partner at Leger. "The fact is he's joining the race of a party that was on a downward spiral. And he's probably the only person that can move the needle for the PQ in the short term."
The Parti Québécois was left in disarray this past spring after being soundly defeated by the Liberals in an election fought over sovereignty, jobs and the PQ's controversial secular charter. Former Premier Pauline Marois quit, triggering a contest for her job that will end with a leadership convention in May. She is now said to be working the phones on behalf of Mr. Péladeau. Among the other leadership candidates are former journalists Bernard Drainville and Jean-François Lisée.
Well before he joined the PQ and won a seat for the Laurentians-area riding of Saint-Jérôme, Mr. Péladeau was well-known among Quebeckers. The controlling shareholder of media empire Quebecor Inc., founded by his father, he was frequent fodder for gossip magazines because of his romantic relationship with television star Julie Snyder.
But his time as a member of the legislature has been anything but smooth.
Though he is no longer on Quebecor's board or part of management, Mr. Péladeau has yet to put his shares in the company in a blind trust. That has raised conflict-of-interest allegations that continue to dog him, with popular radio host Paul Arcand asking him recently whether his political stand on several burning issues isn't constantly being undermined by the fact Quebecor is affected by those same issues.
The legislature's ethics commissioner said last month that he had opened an investigation into whether Mr. Péladeau violated ethics policies by intervening in a deal to sell Montreal sound-stage company Vision Globale. Quebecor subsequently bought Vision for $118-million. Mr. Péladeau's past actions against unions as Quebecor boss is also proving to be a potential liability for his leadership chances. Daniel Boyer, president of Quebec's largest labour organization, known as the FTQ has called Mr. Péladeau one of the worst employers the province has ever seen, denouncing various lockouts at Quebecor over the years. He's threatened to stack the PQ party ranks with FTQ members in a bid to torpedo his leadership aspirations.