Pierre Karl Péladeau is not – in conventional terms – a politician. He is one of Québec’s most famous business personalities after becoming the CEO of his father’s vast media empire, Quebecor, in 1999.
But, in March last year, Mr Péladeau shocked both the business and political worlds by announcing his intention to run as a member of the Québec assembly; a race he won comfortably.
Now the 53-year-old has emerged as the frontrunner in the race to lead the Partis Québécois. The “King of Québec”, as he was described in one magazine last year, represented something of a political masterstroke for the Partis Québécois – which, historically, has found it difficult to lure business leaders into its fold.
Here was one of the territory’s most famous business personalities leaving behind the family corporation and throwing his hat into the bullring of Québécois politics.
This, the commentators said, was a moment when the PQ could begin crafting a more compelling and more credible economic pulpit from which to preach its message of sovereignty.
But the campaign so far has revealed that Mr Péladeau’s experience in business has not translated into a natural mastery of the political sphere.
His early claims that his goal was to “make Québec a country” jolted many. The PQ has a more nuanced approach to the sovereignty question since the narrowly lost referendum in 1995; a hard-won shifting of the tone that seemed – in the early days of his political career – to pass Mr Péladeau by.
But what kind of leader will Mr Péladeau – who is almost certain to win the vote – be? The next elections here are not until 2018 and most of the commentators I speak to say that these three years will be crucial.
The appetite for sovereignty is a marginal issue at present: opinion polls suggest some 35 to 40 per cent of the population would like another chance to go it alone. Not an insubstantial majority then but, as one journalist I spoke to put it, Québec today is not the Québec of 1995.
Other concerns – the economy, the language, university tuition fees – are higher on people’s agendas than the independence debate.
Mr Péladeau must craft a response to those concerns if he is to persuade Québecers that sovereignty – so palpable a prospect 20 years ago – is indeed the most fruitful path ahead in this part of the country.
Tomos Lewis is Monocle’s Toronto bureau chief.