Quebec separatist party under threat in Monday election

Sun Apr 6, 2014 10:12pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A month ago, Monday's election in Quebec seemed like such a good idea to the ruling Parti Quebecois, the largest separatist party in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province.

Premier Pauline Marois and her minority government hoped to take advantage of a comfortable lead in the polls to capture a majority of seats in the provincial legislature. That would enable them to push through a provincial charter on secularism and possibly set the stage for a new referendum on whether the province should leave Canada.

But the strategy has backfired and, after a surge in support for the opposition Liberals, the PQ government now risks being kicked out altogether in the provincial election.

The turning point in the campaign came when Marois announced that Pierre Karl Peladeau, the controlling shareholder of the Quebecor Inc media empire, would run as a PQ candidate for one of the seats.

At first Peladeau, or PKP as he is known, was seen as a star who would bring economic gravitas to a party viewed as leaning to the left and influenced by organized labor. When Marois introduced him as a candidate, Peladeau pumped his fist in the air and said he wanted "to make Quebec a country."

For the PQ, it was a rare moment of forthrightness on the sovereignty issue. Even though independence is its raison d'etre, the party plays down that option to avoid scaring off voters who want Quebec to stay in Canada. Two earlier referendums on separation, in 1980 and 1995, fell short, and today a solid majority of Quebec voters oppose a third plebiscite on that issue as well as separation itself.

The party's reticence on the issue now seems well-founded. Since Peladeau's declaration, the campaign has been dominated by the question of a referendum. As a consequence, the PQ's lead evaporated, and it gradually fell further behind the pro-Canada Liberal Party of Quebec.

"Madame Marois took a gamble and lost, on PKP," commented Antonia Maioni, director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal.   Continued...

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois (L) smiles after introducing her new candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau, former president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., in Saint-Jerome, Quebec, March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi