QUEBEC QUESTIONS 20160210

Quebec Opposition Leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau has threatened his political rivals with lawsuits when they have questioned the legality of his plans for a sovereignty institute. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau will personally pay the contract of a headhunter tasked with recruiting a director for a new institute on Quebec sovereignty.

"I am at the origin of this idea to create the institute and I will defray the costs," he told a news conference Thursday in Quebec City.

Péladeau said the timetable for the creation of the institute, which will produce studies on the advantages of Quebec independence, has not been finalized.

"A headhunter has been mandated to find the management (of the institute),'' he said.

Opposition parties concerned

Péladeau insists the institute will be independent from the PQ, but members of the legislature from other parties said the situation raises questions about possible links between the two.

Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier said it was likely the province's chief electoral officer would find there was a conflict of interest between Péladeau and the institute.

"Let the (electoral officer) check the entire file, but for the moment the evidence we have is that the leader of the PQ says he wants an institute and the leader of the PQ is determining the selection criteria,'' he said.

"It will be difficult not to see a convergence.''

Last month, Péladeau sent a cease-and-desist letter to François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, who suggested Péladeau might run afoul of Quebec's election laws if he personally helped finance the institute. The PQ leader threatened to do the same to the Liberals for similar criticisms.

On Thursday, Legault said Péladeau must clarify whether the money is a loan or financing.

He questioned whether the PQ leader could finance more than $100 — the annual limit in Quebec for individual donations to political parties — in an organization that would be promoting sovereignty, which is Article 1 of the party's program.

Péladeau's office would not divulge the value of the contract for the headhunter.

Same as the federal idea?

The PQ has previously responded to the criticism by pointing out that the Federal Idea, a Quebec-based think-tank on federalism, has links with the Liberal party.

Premier Philippe Couillard did not comment specifically on Péladeau's financial involvement but said the institute would fail in its mission.

"Each time the PQ has tried to prove that, financially and economically, separation would be beneficial, they always fail,'' Couillard said.

"They will fail again because it just doesn't work.''

He said he wants to see the studies produced by the institute because "every time we have a new study from the PQ, we have a field day.''