MONTREAL — As Pierre Karl Peladeau enters 2016 with several months as Parti Quebecois leader under his belt, one of his main objectives will be to convince Quebecers that the business domain is not his only area of interest and expertise.
While he consolidates that leadership over the next 12 months, Peladeau will no doubt be looking further down the road to the general election scheduled for the fall of 2018.
The controlling shareholder of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) has the economic gravitas after a lengthy career with the media conglomerate, which owns the province's largest private TV network, the flagship Le Journal de Montreal newspaper and the highly lucrative Videotron cable company.
Quebec Opposition Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau questions the government. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/CP)
It is in other areas such as education and health where Peladeau, 54, will have to show Quebecers he truly cares at a time when both sectors are financially strapped and constantly under the threat of government cutbacks.
"I don't claim to know everything," Peladeau told a news conference earlier this month. "Quite the opposite even. So I will have the opportunity in the weeks and months ahead, with my colleagues obviously, to hone my knowledge of all the issues of concern to us."
Peladeau, who was elected leader in May, has had a few bumps since entering the job, such as when he suggested he was open to partitioning a sovereign Quebec in order to recognize First Nations' claims to territory.
That is a major no-no among sovereigntists, who see the indivisibility of the province as sacrosanct.
Peladeau released a statement "clarifying" his comments a few days later.
"It's obvious that I don't have the political experience of many of the members of the legislature," he told reporters. "I entered politics 18 months ago and became PQ leader six months ago, so I still have things to learn."
Peladeau must avoid these kinds of blunders going forward, says Eric Montigny, research chair in democracy and parliamentary institutions at Universite Laval.
"He needs to assert himself as the official opposition, as a premier-in-waiting," Montigny said in an interview. "He cannot allow himself to continue to have to apologize for his comments."
Peladeau says he will reach out to anglophones and cultural minorities in 2016 while also trying to unite the province's sovereigntist forces.
"I entered politics 18 months ago and became PQ leader six months ago, so I still have things to learn."
The PQ is short on specifics, however, Montigny says.
"We felt there was a willingness to extend a hand (to anglophones and other minorities)," he said. "But there has to be more than just words. We haven't seen any concrete gestures."
Peladeau has stated he won't shy away from discussing sovereignty, even though opinion polls repeatedly suggest that support for the option is stagnant.
"We are going to continue to work in order to protect the interests of Quebecers and to show that Quebec independence is a political option that is more than viable — it is desirable so that we can become richer," he said.
Quebec's third-placed party, the Coalition for Quebec's Future, is also hoping to make gains in 2016.
Sensing what he believes is a shift in the electorate away from sovereignty, leader Francois Legault has promised Quebecers a new "Quebec nationalism" with which federalists and sovereigntists alike can be comfortable.
Legault says Quebec should embark on large-scale economic projects — partly funded by the government — in certain area like aeronautics and other manufacturing-based industries in order to create jobs and wealth and to stop receiving equalization payments from rich provinces.
Only then, he said, can Quebec find itself in a strong position to negotiate with Canada for more powers, specifically over immigration, language and culture.
"Quebec can no longer be less rich than its neighbours," Legault said. "It has to have the means to achieve its ambitions."
Meanwhile, Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberals ended the year winning three out of four byelections and have 71 of the 125 seats in the legislature.
"Clearly the government is doing well by reaching and talking to its supporters," Montigny said.
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