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Opinion Péladeau’s difficult year just got more difficult

Last year was supposed to be Pierre Karl Péladeau's year – the relaunching of Quebec sovereigntist fervour under a new, passionate PQ leader. But it was not.

Worse, 2016 looks as if it is becoming another annus horribilis.

The Quebecor Inc. supremo was elected to take the helm of the Parti Québécois in May. In August, his wedding to Julie Snyder, a popular producer and TV personality and the mother of his two younger children, was the social event of 2015, with a large gathering of celebrity guests. But the media hype did not translate into an increase in voting intentions for the PQ or a surge of popularity for its leader.

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On Monday, less than six months into the marriage, the couple announced their separation – a personal tragedy that has intersected with politics. Last June, Ms. Snyder, who enthusiastically supported her husband's leadership campaign, tearfully announced she had to sell part of her company, Productions J, because she lost access to the tax credits that are now reserved for independent producers (most of her television shows were broadcast on TVA, property of her then-fiancé).

In the fall, Ms. Snyder went from being stylishly thin to dangerously skinny. She told a worried interviewer that no, she was not anorexic, but under extreme stress. The power couple had gone through a stormy separation in January, 2014, after more than 10 years together, but had reunited after counselling.

Meanwhile, controversies plagued Mr. Péladeau's first months as Leader of the Opposition. He was harshly criticized, for example, for his refusal to form a "true" blind trust to manage his assets (he forbids his trustees to sell his shares in Quebecor Media).

True to his tough and impulsive ways as heir to a media empire, he alienated many PQ activists with reckless dismissals and appointments. Even his good ideas backfire. He has said he intends to give a "substantial amount" of his fortune to a sovereigntist think tank he wants to create – but considering the proposed institute's proximity to the PQ, this might go against Quebec electoral financing laws. When MNAs from another opposition party said he was disregarding the electoral law, he threatened to sue – a reaction typical of a business owner used to having his own way.

To top it all, La Presse and Radio-Canada reported that some of Quebecor's subsidiaries had used tax havens. Although these moves were legal, such revelations cast an aspiring premier in a negative light. In the past few days, Mr. Péladeau found himself on the defensive again, just as his marriage was unravelling.

Meanwhile, his inability to adapt to the tricky art of politics is a widespread cause of worry among his troops, as they see the PQ unable to gain ground despite the relative unpopularity of Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberal government.

Sometimes, however, being a relative newcomer helps Mr. Péladeau to see things outside the narrow box of the Quebec political class. In November, he was panned by commentators for his mild reaction to a declaration from Ghislain Picard, chief of Quebec's First Nations, who said that if the province were to become independent, aboriginal people would decide for themselves whether to go with Quebec or Canada.

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Mr. Péladeau told reporters the issue was complex. What he did not say, as all Quebec party leaders have routinely done, was that the partition of Quebec is not negotiable. Never mind the anglophone districts of Montreal's futile claim for partition. But who can say that the Crees in northern Quebec would not have a strong case in law and in the court of international opinion? Mr. Péladeau's cautious reaction, as politically incorrect as it was, actually made sense.

For now, though, the PQ Leader has more pressing problems than a hypothetical partition of Quebec. At stake are his future as a political leader, as a father and as a man who may face a tough fight over alimony.

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