Well, that was quick.
After less than two years in politics and less than one at the helm of the Parti Québécois, Pierre-Karl Péladeau—former media baron, strike-buster, and Great White Hope for the Quebec independence movement—is leaving, ostensibly for family reasons.
Péladeau (aka PKP) made the bombshell announcement at an emotional press conference Monday afternoon, where he said he would be stepping down as both leader and as MNA for St-Jérôme.
"I had to make a difficult choice between my family and our political project," he told reporters, without taking any questions. "I chose my family."
The family-first argument rings somewhat true. His relationship with his wife, TV personality Julie Snyder, has been tumultuous, and long a source of tabloid gossip. Péladeau even addressed it head-on when he announced his intention to run in the 2014 provincial election, saying that the couple was working on the relationship. And for a while, PKP and Snyder, who have two kids together, appeared to be doing just fine; they even married last August. But the couple separated again, apparently for good, in December.
Lawyers are involved on both sides, and it's looking like the couple's children may be at the heart of PKP's decision.
In discussing the sudden and unexpected end of what was shaping up to be an interesting political career, it's hard to ignore the fact of Snyder's Sunday night appearance on the massively popular Radio-Canada show Tout le monde en parle. Part celeb talk show, part confessional—a sort of Quebec Oprah—the show is the venue of choice for many of the province's public figures who want to address burning topical issues. Snyder opened up about her relationship with PKP and life as a political wife, describing how her entire universe had been dedicated to her soon-to-be-ex-husband's political career. For Concordia University political science professor Guy Lachapelle, her appearance may have precipitated a moment of reckoning.
"It really was like a message of love from her to him," Lachapelle told VICE. "You know, if your spouse goes on the air like she did, that might make you think twice."
But even if we take PKP at face value and accept that he did indeed quit for family reasons, PKP's political career, brief as it was, did constitute some serious high drama. Lachapelle says he was learning on the job and had shown significant improvement in recent months, particularly during Question Period in the National Assembly. But his brief reign provided some admittedly pretty weird moments.
Right from the beginning, his March 2014 announcement that he'd be running as a star candidate for the PQ always seemed at least a little bit odd. The many-many-times-multi-millionaire media baron scion was joining a party that had traditionally swung left on most issues, including economic ones. But his awkward, uncomfortable, arms-raised half-smile thing at the announcement puzzled many, and showed that the rookie politician required a lot of polishing.
Heading into the election, there were many questions about his candidacy. This was, after all, a man who imposed a vicious two-year lockout against his employees at the Journal de Montreal, and had a history of being equally ruthless with other workers. His loud support for independence, at a time when that wasn't necessarily on the PQ's agenda, may also have alarmed the party brass. In fact, following the PQ's disastrous showing in the 2014 election, PKP specifically received a lot of the blame—a common charge among voters who might have voted PQ but didn't was that they could not vote for someone with his record on labour relations.
In the end, PKP never seemed at ease in the public eye. There was always something forced and mechanical about him, as if he knew the role he was supposed to play but just didn't have the talent to figure out how to play it well. His smiles were strange. He lost his temper easily. He would bark at reporters. He just wasn't very good at PR, often coming across as slightly ridiculous, like when he decided to go on a bike tour around the province with the Bloc Quebecois's leader during the last federal election. The fact that he was rich as Croesus just added to the comedy, slightly sinister though it may have been.
Even his wedding last August was off-kilter and tone-deaf. It had been built up for months and was billed as the wedding of the year, even though he and Snyder already had two kids and had been together for 15 years.
He arrived on a tandem bike, co-ridden with his son. She arrived an hour late, driving a Tesla, in one of the three dresses she'd wear that night. The wedding was held at a museum in Quebec City, officiated by the mayor. Spectacular maybe, but not exactly the sort of event befitting a man of the people.
And that speaks to the heart of why Pierre-Karl Péladeau was never all that popular in Quebec: It's not just that he was super rich and behaved as such, but that he could never even pretend to be comfortable being otherwise.
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