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It feels good to be on the winning side for a change, even when the winner in question tops the podium selling the troika of modern vices that are sugar, cigarettes and gasoline.

Alimentation Couche-Tard this week unveiled its $3.8-billion (U.S.) acquisition of Texas-based convenience store rival CST Brands a day after the 2016 Olympics wrapped up. But it was still seen as a gold-medal day for Quebec Inc., which had been on the losing side of late.

On the ever-touchy topic of the fate of Quebec's francophone business class, Laval-based Couche-Tard is the current counterargument of choice among those who see a half-full glass. It is now poised to surpass 7-Eleven in the North American convenience-store market and is slowly conquering Europe, too. Co-founder and executive chairman Alain Bouchard is a local hero.

No wonder Quebec's politicians and media got their backs up when Toronto-based institutional investors refused to support Mr. Bouchard's plan to scrap the existing sunset clause on the company's multiple-voting shares, allowing him and his three co-founders to retain control well beyond 2021 and pass ownership of the business on to their children.

"Where's the gratitude?" they asked. Couche-Tard's common shareholders have seen huge returns under Mr. Bouchard, who in April accused Bay Street governance types of "standing high on their pedestal." A failure to extend the sunset clause, he warned, could lead to the company's sale.

Opposition politicians immediately called for Premier Philippe Couillard's government to intervene to prevent a future sale of Couche-Tard. But with a market capitalization now approaching $40-billion (Canadian), it would be beyond Quebec's ability to take a large enough stake in the company to block a takeover. Instead, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Leader François Legault suggested that government agencies acquire just enough Couche-Tard subordinated-voting shares to help the company reach the 66-per-cent support threshold among subordinated-voting shareholders that is needed for Mr. Bouchard to extend the sunset clause.

Liberal Finance Minister Carlos Leitao countered that the government's goal is to assemble enough Quebec private investors with stakes in Couche-Tard to constitute a local control bloc.

Mr. Couillard will only face increased pressure to act now that Couche-Tard has emerged as Quebec Inc.'s leading flag-bearer in the globalization sweeps and while his government continues to suffer from the fallout from February's $3.2-billion takeover of local hardware icon Rona by U.S. rival Lowe's.

Last week, Transport Minister Jacques Daoust was forced to resign after the revelation of an e-mail chain from late 2014 that suggested he authorized the sale of Investissement Québec's stake in Rona when he was economy minister. Mr. Daoust denied that, but the opposition has seen enough political mileage in the Rona saga to force special parliamentary hearings this week into its sale.

Investissrment Québec and provincial pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec were pressed by former Liberal premier Jean Charest's government to acquire stakes in Rona in mid-2012 to block a then-hostile bid for the company by Lowe's. The Charest government, then fighting for re-election, designated Rona a "strategic asset" and vowed to do everything in its power keep it in Quebec hands. Not only did it lose the election, it dealt a blow to the supposed independence of the Caisse and Investissement Québec.

Investissement Québec acquired its 12 million Rona shares at an average price of $13. But in late 2014, unbeknownst to the public, it undertook to sell its stake for $13.59 a share, for a net gain of $6.2-million. The CAQ and Parti Québécois are demanding to know whether Mr. Couillard himself approved the sale, something the Premier denies. But the liquidation of Investissement Québec's stake was taken by Lowe's as a signal to proceed with a renewed run at Rona.

Its friendly $24-a-share offer in February was more than $10 above the price at which Investissement Québec sold its stake, denying Quebec taxpayers a sweet gain of about $125-million, had it held on to its shares. Yet that's not the reason Mr. Daoust resigned or why Mr. Couillard continues to come under fire. Rather, they are criticized for failing to prevent Rona from falling to a foreign predator.

"In an open economy, sometimes entrepreneurs come here to acquire businesses and sometimes – we saw it with Couche-Tard – it's us conquering foreign markets. It works both ways," Mr. Couillard offered this week to deflect criticisms of his handling of Rona's sale.

Mr. Couillard is not the most economically nationalist of Quebec premiers. But political imperatives could force him to ditch his principles the next time a "jewel" of Quebec Inc. goes on the block. For his sake, he had better hope it's not Couche-Tard.

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