Pierre Karl Péladeau was doing so well. And then the Sphinx of Saint-Jérôme spoke.
Without saying anything, Péladeau had been running away with the Parti Québécois leadership race before it officially started.
The only apparent threat to him, Gilles Duceppe, had withdrawn his name from consideration (external - login to view)
in May. The latest poll on the PQ leadership (external - login to view)
, conducted last week, gave Péladeau a commanding lead over the remaining potential candidates in popularity among the party’s supporters.
The first-term member of the National Assembly for Saint-Jérôme had opened up that lead without exposing his positions. The lead allowed him to be patient, to hang back and let his rivals commit themselves, to try to get attention.
There was no rush anyway, since the race hadn’t even officially started, and the leadership election wouldn’t be held until next spring. And Péladeau’s refusal to commit himself allowed PQ members to project their hopes onto him, to believe that he was whatever they wanted him to be.
His silence was working. And then, before he needed to, he broke it.
Following the publication last Saturday of the latest poll results giving him a 46-percentage-point lead among PQ supporters, Péladeau’s staff approached selected newspapers with offers of interviews with him on Monday.
The resulting stories suggest that the “interviews” were as tightly controlled as the ones movie stars give to television “infotainment” shows to plug their new films. If the reporters were allowed to ask Péladeau questions about anything other than what he wanted to talk about, it wasn’t apparent.
And what he wanted to talk about was the Liberal government’s austerity program, as the pretext to position himself at the starting line before the PQ race officially begins.
Before he entered last April’s general elections, Péladeau firmly established a reputation as a right-winger who was anti-big-government as well as anti-union.
Under his hands-on management, the Québecor media that he still owns launched a relentless campaign for cuts in public spending, under the heading “Le Québec dans le rouge” — Quebec in the Red — that still continues (external - login to view)
That placed him well to the right of the PQ and much of its membership.
Yet in his interviews this week, he presented himself as a progressive as well as a nationalist. He defended the “Quebec model” of government and its generous social programs against what he called the Couillard government’s “ideological” agenda to deny Quebec’s history and identity.
Before he entered active politics, he called for cuts in public spending in order to lower taxes. His media still do.
In his interview with Le Devoir (external - login to view)
, however, he made the opposite case. While Quebecers pay higher taxes, they enjoy more public services in return, said, adopting a familiar argument of the province’s left before turning it into a question of identity:
“It’s the choice Quebec has made historically. And it’s clear that’s not what the Couillard government wants to do. It says we’re going to be a province like the others. That’s not Quebec’s history. You can’t wipe the table clean of what happened before.”
Thus Péladeau made a soaring leap to the left, a grand jeté (external - login to view)
worthy of a Baryshnikov.
It’s dangerous for a politician with a firmly established position to make such a leap, especially on the verge of an election campaign. The leap is so abrupt and so far, and the motives behind it so transparent, that it can raise doubts about the politician’s sincerity, making him appear to be an opportunist, and untrustworthy.
And if he is capable of making such a leap to one side before the election, then he can make another to the opposite side afterward.
Don Macpherson: Pierre Karl PÃ©ladeauâ€™s grand jetÃ© to the left (external - login to view)