MONTREAL – Now that Pauline Marois has tendered her resignation as Parti Quebecois leader, the question within the battered sovereigntist party is who will be the right person to rebuild it.
It won’t be easy. The PQ suffered one of its worst defeats since the 1970s on Monday night when Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard won a majority government.
Two-thirds of Quebecers also flatly say they’re not interested in another sovereignty referendum, one of the party’s main goals.
The PQ’s interim leader is to be announced on Thursday night. Nobody has come forward yet to claim the permanent job Marois won by acclamation in 2007.
However, PQ members seemed to get a preview of a few possible choices on election night when some who have been touted as contenders addressed them before their defeated leader spoke.
In a twist that seemed to come out of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Pierre Karl Peladeau, Jean-Francois Lisee, Bernard Drainville and Nicole Leger came to praise Marois before she buried her own political career a few moments later.
Lisee and Leger extolled Marois’ qualities and the party’s determination to fight on, while Drainville and Peladeau made a pitch to sovereigntist hearts
Peladeau insisted the PQ caucus would continue to “defend the interests of Quebecers and the country” while Drainville was even more forceful, giving a stemwinder speech on the virtues of the goal to make Quebecers masters of their own destiny.
“We will never abandon it — never,” he said before leading the crowd in a chant of “we want a country.”
Lisee, Drainville and Peladeau have often been mentioned as eventual successors to Marois, although it has also been suggested Peladeau might not have the patience to toil in Opposition and rebuild a shattered party after so many years as a corporate titan.
He has mused he would be an ideal negotiator for Quebec with Canada after a sovereigntist referendum win although his polarizing reputation with many — including the PQ’s social-democratic wing — is of someone who relies more on lockouts to resolve contract disputes.
That seems to cancel out the benefit of his hefty business credentials with the PQ’s left wing, although others profess a bigger knock against him.
They say his fist-pumping, enthusiastic embracing of an independent Quebec at his campaign launch on March 9 started the PQ election effort’s careening skid into the ditch.
Besides the 52-year-old political rookie Peladeau are two party stalwarts who handled some of the tougher files during Marois’s minority government.
Drainville, a former TV reporter for the CBC’s French-language network, was the point man for the controversial secularism charter and promoted it with almost missionary zeal.
One of the more popular cabinet ministers within the PQ, the fluently bilingual Drainville studied at the London School of Economics.
The 50-year-old was also Radio-Canada’s correspondent in Latin America before being assigned to Ottawa and Quebec City as a political reporter.
First elected in 2007, he served as the PQ health critic before being re-elected in 2008 and 2012, when he was named minister of democratic institutions.
Lisee, a former journalist, author and professor, was Marois’s minister of international relations as well as being responsible for Montreal. The 56-year-old also often handled the hot-button issue of language.
A well-known sovereigntist thinker, Lisee advised PQ premiers Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, serving as one of the architects of Parizeau’s strategy in the 1995 referendum that was nearly won by sovereigntists.
The bilingual and urbane Lisee quit working for Bouchard in 1999 after disagreeing with his government on sovereignty strategy.
A dark horse candidate is former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, who quit as chief of that party when it was decimated by the New Democratic Party in the 2011 federal election.
Many sovereigntists find Duceppe appealing because of his wide popularity but others chafe at the possibility he would try to bring the iron discipline he imposed on the Bloc to the more freewheeling PQ.
Others who might take a run at the leadership are former cabinet ministers Leger, Sylvain Gaudreault and Veronique Hivon, although their profile isn’t considered as high as those of Lisee, Drainville and Peladeau.