MONTREAL - The Parti Quebecois could begin its Pierre Karl Peladeau-led era this Friday.
Polls suggest the controlling shareholder of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), one of the biggest and most influential media companies in Canada, is the front-runner in the race to succeed Pauline Marois as permanent PQ leader.
Peladeau's opponents are former cabinet ministers Alexandre Cloutier and Martine Ouellet.
The first round of voting began Wednesday and ends at 5 p.m. eastern Friday. If none of the three gets 50 per cent, a second round of voting with the top two finishers will take place May 20-22.
Much of the campaign has focused on Peladeau's refusal to sell his shares in Quebecor. He has promised to put the shares in a blind trust, a position critics say is inadequate.
The ongoing debate prompted Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier to quip that if PQ members "want to transform the Parti Quebecois into the Parti Quebecor, it's up to them."
Although a political neophyte — he was elected in April 2014 — Peladeau's influence in Quebec is undeniable.
Quebecor owns some of the biggest media properties in the province such as newspapers, a TV network, book publishers and music distributors. His company is also a major player in cable, Internet and cellphone services.
Peladeau's critics and political opponents say he is divisive, anti-union and too short-tempered to handle the frustrations and nuances of political life.
But his passionate, public and fervent cries for Quebec sovereignty, coupled with his high profile, have made him a seemingly irresistible candidate for party brass who long desperately to be pioneers of an independent country.
Former cabinet minister Bernard Drainville said as much when he dropped out of the race in April.
“In the last few weeks, it has become very clear to us that Pierre Karl is going to win, on the first ballot, hands down,” said Drainville, the man who introduced the ill-fated secularism charter when the PQ was recently in power.
Another man considered as leadership potential, Jean-Francois Lisee, quit the race early on because he knew he couldn't beat Peladeau.
"The race is politically over," Lisee said in January. The PQ wants to have its "Pierre Karl Peladeau moment," he added.
Whoever becomes PQ leader will have more than three years to prove their worth because the next election is set for the fall of 2018.
One follower of Quebec politics says choosing Peladeau, 53, would be a sort of "Hail Mary pass" from a party he describes as weak and desperate.
The PQ's sole purpose is to make Quebec a country and, for party members, Peladeau represents the best chance of success, said Daniel Weinstock, director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.
"I think this is it, for a lot of that generation, it's now or never," Weinstock said in an interview.
"I think there is a sense the PQ project doesn't have seven or eight years left and you have to go for the Hail Mary as it were and Peladeau is the Hail Mary."
The three candidates have different approaches to holding another sovereignty referendum.
— Peladeau wants to wait until the 2018 election before deciding whether to hold one.
— Cloutier will seek to collect one million signatures calling for a referendum before going ahead with one.
— And Ouellet wants one in the first mandate of a PQ government.
Ouellet, 46, is a mechanical engineer who worked for the province's hydro utility for 20 years. She has been a member of the legislature since 2010 and was natural resources minister between 2012 and 2014.
Cloutier, 37, is a constitutional lawyer who has sat in the national assembly since 2007. He was minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs and sovereigntist governance between 2012 and 2014.
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