MONTREAL — Pierre Karl Peladeau, chosen by Quebec sovereigntists last year to lead them to independence, stunned the Canadian political class Monday by quitting — a move that leaves the Parti Quebecois looking for yet another leader.
Peladeau, 54, who was elected PQ leader last May 15, told a news conference he had chosen his family over politics.
"I am forced to make a choice, an agonizing choice, between my family and my political project, our political project, which is shared by so many people," he said as he fought back tears.
"I have chosen my family."
Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau comments on the Quebec government's cabinet shuffle, Thursday, January 28, 2016 in Montreal. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/CP)
He offered no details during the five-minute speech, which came one day after an immensely popular television talk show broadcast an interview with his ex-partner.
Peladeau and Julie Snyder — an actress and television producer who rivals Peladeau's high-profile status in the province — are in divorce mediation, only months after their lavish wedding last August.
Snyder said their two children, aged seven and 10, are often told in public school to not fight, to not intimidate others and to "learn to negotiate."
"I hope we can be a good example for our kids," Snyder said.
'I am making this decision for the well-being of my children'
Peladeau echoed those words during his resignation speech.
"I am making this decision for the well-being of my children," he said. "I must remain an example to them."
Peladeau was elected last May with 57.6 per cent of the vote in the race to succeed Pauline Marois.
When Marois introduced Peladeau as a star candidate in the 2014 election the PQ would eventually lose, he famously raised his fist, declared his intent to create a country and quickly witnessed the party drop in the polls.
He was criticized for coming out too strongly in favour of independence, a sensitive subject in the province that remains highly divisive.
Strongly in favour of independence
Peladeau remained undeterred on the topic, however, and his first words when he was announced as the new leader was that he would settle for nothing less than an independent Quebec.
Much of the leadership campaign and the past year focused on his steadfast refusal to sell his shares in Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), the conglomerate of which he remains the controlling shareholder.
His tenure as PQ leader was marked by his creation of a sovereigntist think-tank tasked with raising awareness about independence and by his struggle to unite the sovereigntist forces.
Quebecers who want their own country are currently divided among three main political parties and polls consistently indicate support for independence hovering around 40 per cent.
More 'business people' in the party
Concordia University professor Guy Lachapelle, who is a board member on Peladeau's nascent think-tank, said the ex-PQ leader's legacy will be his desire for rapprochement among sovereigntists and his work bringing more economic-oriented people into the party.
"I think he brought a new attitude into the PQ for the convergence of sovereigntists," Lachapelle said. "And he brought more business people into the PQ. I think the coming together of sovereigntists will continue. Peladeau was very open to starting discussions with everyone and that's one of his successes."
Peladeau and Martine Ouellet, a PQ member of the legislature, recently published an open letter calling on all sovereigntists to work together to create a new country.
It is unclear what effect Peladeau's sudden resignation will have on the movement's momentum.
The PQ caucus is expected to meet this week to discuss the party's immediate future.
"Having another leadership race is quite an investment in terms of resources and party employees and volunteers," Lachapelle said.
"We're talking about an interim leader for about six months, and then the PQ will have to find a leader with enough time left for him or her to become known to the population. It's a bit complicated."
The focus will now turn to his replacement at the helm of the party, with former cabinet ministers Alexandre Cloutier and Ouellet likely to be among the candidates.
They finished second and third respectively in last year's race.