François Legault is hoping voters see his newly-created Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) as a "third way" for the province's future.
The former PQ cabinet minister and businessman generated months of media buzz when he launched CAQ in 2011 and merged with the now defunct Action démocratique du Québec.
Centre-right and moderately nationalist, CAQ is eyeing federalist and sovereigntist voters disillusioned with the governing Liberals and opposition Parti Québécois.
Legault wants to shelve the sovereignty debate for least a decade to focus on economic prosperity.
His formula has attracted disgruntled PQ, Liberal and former Action Démocratique du Québec politicians who believe voters also have an appetite for political change.
Articulate, bilingual and affable, Legault, 55, has proven to be a popular leader in the polls and is frequently sought out as an economic critic in the public sphere.
But Quebec political observers say distinctions between CAQ’s platform and Quebec’s right-of-centre Liberal Party policies are mostly shades of the same colour.
Legault supports the Liberals’ controversial tuition fee increases, wants to trim bureaucracy in health and social services, pay down Quebec’s crippling debt and promote the French language and culture.
As a self-made multimillionaire, Legault espouses a political platform committed to developing an entrepreneurial economy.
He’s banking on the idea that economic prosperity appeals to all, regardless of nationalist leanings.
Whether Quebec voters – and the CAQ itself – can actually accept a moratorium on the emotional sovereignty debate remains to be seen.
Before the campaign began, Legault faced controversy. He flushed a candidate from the party roster in July after the candidate posted comments on Twitter linking sovereigntists and racism.
The sovereignty question may turn out to be the CAQ’s Achilles' heel.
From businessman to national assembly
Legault says as a child growing up in a modest home in Montreal's Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, he had a dream of becoming a millionaire by age 40.
A former accountant and auditor, Legault founded Air Transat in 1986 with two partners. He achieved his childhood goal by selling his shares of the billion-dollar company in 1997.
He entered politics unelected in 1998 when former PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard offered him a plum cabinet post as industry minister.
Legault won his first election later that year in Rousseau and was re-elected three times.
He sat as a PQ MNA from 1998 to 2009 holding the health and education portfolios in successive governments. When the PQ was ousted from power in 2003, Legault served as finance critic for the party.
He resigned from politics in 2009 to lay the groundwork for the CAQ alongside businessman Charles Sirois.
Legault has led his nascent party since its official formation in November 2011 without a seat at the national assembly. His caucus of nine independent MNAs includes ex-ADQ and PQ members.
By merging with the ADQ, Legault’s CAQ has adopted some of the former party’s more controversial policies, including abolishing school boards and capping immigration.
Legault is married and has two children.