Pierre Karl Péladeau, the front-runner in the Parti Québécois leadership race, is a most unusual sort of politician. Last week, the Quebecor supremo didn't bother to call a press conference to announce his candidacy for the leadership. He did so by casually answering "Yes" to a student who asked him if he would run, during a speech at the University of Montreal. After which he flashed his characteristic mischievous smile, truly amused at the media frenzy that ensued.
Contrary to most politicians, Mr. Péladeau doesn't court the parliamentary media. He'd rather communicate directly with the public through Facebook. In a certain way, this makes sense: Why would he be subjected to the agenda set by reporters and run the risk of seeing his opinions misquoted or distorted?
As the sole head of a huge family business, the man is used to having his way. He's not used to being contradicted, and doesn't much tolerate dissent. At Quebecor, he was known for his temper tantrums and his micromanaging habits. True to form, instead of relying on a speechwriter for the official launch of his campaign, he wrote his own remarks. (They were plodding and badly delivered.) This, in a party renowned for the eloquence of its spokespeople.
But when he speaks ad lib, he runs into another sort of problem. He's prone to blunders, like the time he declared the Bloc Québécois useless and harmful for sovereignty. His comment raised such a storm within the sovereigntist movement that he had to backtrack the next day.
Instead of relying on advisers to polish his image, he jots down whatever crosses his mind on his Facebook page – a habit that sometimes makes him look ridiculous.
For instance, after German President Joachim Gauck, on a diplomatic mission to Quebec City, said he was pleased that Quebec didn't separate, Mr. Péladeau reacted angrily. Mr. Gauck, a former East German dissident, should know better, Mr. Péladeau wrote, awkwardly comparing Quebec under the 1982 Constitution to Soviet-controlled East Germany.
It was far from an isolated incident. Mr. Péladeau often uses outdated, overly dramatic metaphors to illustrate the plight of Quebec in the Canadian federation – an eerie reminder of the inflamed rhetoric of the 1960s, before the moderating influence of the likes of PQ founder René Lévesque.
The fact that Mr. Péladeau superbly ignores the common rules of politics can be seen in two ways. Some will find his spontaneity and reckless individualism refreshing, as compared to the average politician's prepackaged performance. Some will find it dangerous for a party leader who wants to become premier.
What is sure is that he usually comes across as an attractive, genial personality who exudes energy. And whether this is entirely deserved or not, he has the aura of a successful entrepreneur – an enormous asset for sovereigntists, who've never been able to persuade Quebeckers that secession would be good for the economy.
There's one thing Mr. Péladeau had to change, though, to please the left-leaning party he wants to conquer: his image as a ruthless, fiercely anti-union boss. He has worked hard to morph into a union-friendly humanist bent on "solidarity" and "social justice." Most Péquistes are not totally convinced by his instant conversion, but they seem ready to take a chance on PKP, if only because there is no one else with enough clout to save the party and – maybe – revive the sovereigntist dream.