National Affairs column
Media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau is the brightest but most mercurial star to appear on the Quebec political firmament since Lucien Bouchard.
His decision to run for the Parti Québécois in the April 7 election could lead to a dramatic realignment of the constellations in Quebec.
His addition to Pauline Marois' candidate lineup was initially described as a move to shore up the economic credentials of the PQ. But it is on the sovereignty debate and on the party itself that his influence stands to be felt and not just during the current campaign.
With Péladeau in the mix, a majority PQ government would have to seriously set its sights on holding a referendum or risk implosion.
Marois has come a long way from banging on pots and pans as the leader of a left-of-centre opposition party at the time of the 2012 Quebec maple spring.
Péladeau's recruitment completes the conservative makeover of the formerly social democrat PQ.
An opponent of the Rand formula and of compulsory union dues, he has more lockouts under his employer's belt than any other member of Quebec's corporate community.
Sovereignty aside, he would be more at home on Stephen Harper's economic team than in a PQ caucus.
In many ways Péladeau stands for everything that the progressives in the party - including the handful of former journalists who play front line roles in the government and the former student leaders who are running under its election flag - have long fought against.
But that may be offset by his potential to restore some desperately needed public momentum for sovereignty.
If Marois is re-elected to office next month, the quest for sovereignty is the only glue that stands to hold her fractious team together.
In that quest Marois herself could find her commanding position challenged.
For Péladeau's entry in the campaign marks the beginning of a covert battle for her succession.
A man used to having his words treated as absolute commands, he is not entering politics to play second fiddle for very long.
Should Marois lose the April 7 election or fail to secure a majority, a leadership campaign would be upon the PQ sooner rather than later.
Even if she wins the governing majority she covets, she may find achieving consensus within an ideologically fractured cabinet replete with ministers jostling for the inside leadership track harder than running a minority national assembly.
Should Péladeau emerge as the sovereignty champion that the PQ hopes he will be, she might - like Jacques Parizeau with Bouchard in 1995 - have to step aside in his favour.
Like Bouchard, Péladeau does not lack for charisma, eloquence or authority.
But he also brings another potent asset to his new political calling.
As things stand now, he has no plan to sell off his controlling interest in the Quebecor media empire. Yet placing his shares in a blind trust will hardly make him blind or deaf to the coverage that he and his government receive from the many outlets he owns.
Péladeau may be indifferent to the content put forward by his non-Quebec publications.
He would be hard-pressed to find a more aggressive streak toward Quebec than in the editorial pages of his own English-language publications.
As a sovereigntist that may suit him fine.
But he has not applied the same benign editorial indifference to Quebec's main private television network TVA, to Quebecor's French-language tabloids or to his commanding interest in Quebec's book-publishing industry.
Quebec is a small society with a lot less than six degrees of separation between its various constituencies.
To expect Quebecor journalists to function as if an owner who could at any time regain direct control over their professional future were not a central player in the politics of the province is to ask for a lot - especially in economically challenging times for the media.
Péladeau was once one of Harper's closest Quebec business allies. He spent years lobbying the Conservatives to clip (or tear?) the wings off Radio-Canada, a move that would have cemented Quebecor's dominance of the province's media environment.
That's one bullet that all federalists should be relieved that Harper dodged.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column is distributed by Torstar Syndication Services.