10/27/2011 05:37 EDT | Updated 12/27/2011 05:12 EST

Holders of Quebec's two tougher gigs, Habs coach and PQ boss, stave off pink slips

MONTREAL - They are two of the toughest jobs in Quebec — head coach of the beloved Montreal Canadiens and leader of the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois.

When things aren't going well these pressure-packed jobs create a uniquely intense level of public scrutiny with untold thousands of loyal devotees convinced they could do the job better.

Just ask PQ Leader Pauline Marois and Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin. With their respective organizations in a bind, the two found themselves in a startingly similar predicament on Wednesday night.

The knives appeared drawn for both.

Around 6 p.m., the Canadiens announced they had fired assistant coach Perry Pearn, just after word trickled out that the PQ was holding an emergency caucus meeting to discuss Marois' embattled leadership.

Twitterverse wags were quickly taking bets: Between Marois and Martin, who would be the first to go?

Their jobs have a history of bringing glory one day and heartbreak the next; the Parti Quebecois has fired or pushed away roughly as many leaders as the Canadiens have axed bench bosses since 2000.

The Montreal Canadiens have had seven coaches since then, including former general manager Bob Gainey twice on an interim basis.

In that time, the Parti Quebecois has gone through six leaders since 2000, including two interim ones.

Some of the great ones, like Jacques Lemaire and Lucien Bouchard, became tired of dealing with the accompanying circus and abruptly quit. Others may have been pushed away before their time. The least successful ones were unceremoniously kicked to the curb, to the cheers of the masses.

"Both the fans of the Montreal Canadiens and PQ members historically are quick to ask the leader of their team to resign or be dismissed at the first signs of things going wrong," said University of Ottawa political scientist Luc Turgeon.

"Usually the reason the (PQ) wants to push a leader out is because they're too soft on the sovereignty issue, but I think this time around they are worried about the survival of the party."

Following the defection of several caucus members since the summer, Turgeon says the PQ membership worries may be far different this time around. The demise of the Bloc Quebecois in the May 2 federal election has many members fearing the party might be facing an existential crisis.

The PQ job can be among the toughest in Canadian — where the leader carries the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people dreaming of an independent Quebec.

These leaders must also contend with a party conditioned by a history of grassroots activism, where even founding hero Rene Levesque faced endless harangues and challenges from his militant base.

To top it all off, the leader faces a delicate balancing act: weigh the interests of party members who want a sovereignty referendum held tomorrow morning — versus the broader electorate which tells pollsters it might not want one for quite a few years.

Marois has insisted she's not going anywhere despite her sub-20-per-cent poll numbers, cautious approach to pursuing independence, and inability to capitalize on Premier Jean Charest's string of scandals.

"I'm here to stay. I’m here for the next election,” Marois told reporters late Wednesday after a marathon caucus meeting in Quebec City.

Even some of her own party members have compared her situation to that of the Canadiens' Martin.

A riding-association president in central Quebec, Claude Lessard, was quoted drawing the parallel this week in a stark warning to his leader.

"When the Canadiens lose all the time, it's the coach that pays," Lessard told Radio-Canada.

Meanwhile Wednesday night, 250 kilometres south, the coach may have been a little nervous.

Visitors to Montreal's Bell Centre were booing lustily early in the Habs' game against the Philadelphia Flyers, with the city in disbelief at the team's worst start in nearly three-quarters of a century.

Martin's job has been under the microscope, with calls for his dismissal despite two playoff appearances in his first two years.

Rumours of his impending demise were fuelled by the pre-game firing of his assistant coach, Pearn. Their boss, general manager, Pierre Gauthier was admitting to reporters before the game how poorly things were going.

"I need to be better. Jacques Martin needs to be better. All the members of our organization need to be better," Gauthier said before the game.

Sociologist Olivier Bauer, a Universite de Montreal professor who has written a book about the Habs' role in Quebec society, said the coach is essentially a convenient scapegoat in most scenarios.

"It's a job that comes with responsibility," Bauer said. "When things don't go well, he's the one that takes the fall."

But the coach and the party leader fought the good fight Wednesday night.

The Canadiens began doing something they hadn't done most of the year — score goals. They did it at an increasingly frenzied pace throughout their game against the heavily favoured Flyers, much to the surprise of all but their most frenzied fans.

And Marois' caucus was being put to the test in an emotional meeting. By the end, reports say, only a handful of members challenged her leadership. The vast majority backed her.

Within three hours, the Bell Centre was rocking to the sound of a joyous crowd singing, "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye," and delivering the most thundering ovation of a heretofore depressing season.

And reports from Quebec City's national assembly suggest that, behind closed doors, the PQ caucus meeting ended with members delivering a long ovation for their not-always-fully-appreciated leader.

Marois woke up Thursday to local newspaper headlines that read like: Marois Hangs On and Marois Survives.

Martin insists he doesn't read the newspapers. If he had, on Thursday morning, he would have seen headlines like: Finally An Improvement. A Victory and a Vote of Confidence for Jacques Martin.

So they persisted and will live another day, under the microscope.