The PQ's Shakespearean leadership race

The stage is being set for a confrontation between two star-crossed candidates in the race to lead the Parti Québécois into the next election.

Will the battle to replace Péladeau be more Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet?

A Hivon-Cloutier race to lead the Parti Québécois would be "Shakespearean," according to Cloutier

The stage is being set for a confrontation between two star-crossed candidates in the race to lead the Parti Québécois into the next election. 

One-time allies and long-time friends, MNAs Veronique Hivon and Alexandre Cloutier have quickly emerged as the two leading contenders to replace Pierre Karl Péladeau.

"We have a real friendship, which gives us a scenario that could be a bit Shakespearean," Cloutier, a former cabinet minister, said last week. 

Et tu, Brute?

It was unclear what play Cloutier was referring to. Perhaps he was sensing an "et tu, Brute?" moment taking shape.

Hivon, after all, had supported Cloutier during the last leadership race, when the Lac-Saint-Jean MNA finished a distant second to Péladeau.

She will formally launch her leadership campaign on Monday, beating Cloutier out of the starting gate. He is expected to follow suit in the days to come. 

But Romeo and Juliet might equally come to mind. To many observers they represent the party's passionate youth. ​Of course, PQ supporters would hope for a different end to their drama.

Yet support for sovereignty is on the wane among young Quebecers; the prospect of two relatively young politicians duelling over the leadership adds a sense of dynamism to the party. 

Do as adversaries do in law

Alexandre Cloutier finished a distant second to Pierre Karl Péladeau in the last leadership race. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

It could be that Cloutier was thinking of that line from The Taming of the Shrew:

And do as adversaries do in law, 
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.

Internal PQ politics are notoriously cut-throat, so a race without rifts holds particular appeal.

Hivon is a lawyer by training — she has a law degree from McGill and a master's in social policy from the London School of Economics — but has worked in politics and government for most of her professional life.

Her political reputation is based on her involvement in two projects.

Hivon was the central figure behind Quebec's right-to-die legislation. As an opposition MNA, she introduced the motion that led to the creation of all-party dying with dignity committee, which she then co-chaired. 

When the PQ took power in 2012, she co-authored Bill 52 as minister of social services. The bill was passed by the succeeding Liberal government, in a rare display of bipartisanship.

Her skills as a bridge-builder saw her tasked by Péladeau to reach out to other sovereigntist groups in the province, in the hopes of creating a coalition to better challenge the Liberals.

Though that project has failed to take root, a former interim leader and party president of Option nationale — a small provincial party that broke away from the PQ — has said she'll rejoin the party if Hivon decides to run. 

Cloutier too has a background in law. In fact, he was something of a legal wunderkind. He clerked at the Supreme Court and won a prestigious scholarship to undertake a master's in public international law at Cambridge. 

He stood out in the last leadership race by saying he would only hold a referendum if enough Quebecers signed a petition asking for one.

He is also known to have been inspired by the Scottish National Party, and visited with party officials there in 2014. The SNP first built credibility as a governing party before choosing to hold a referendum on independence. 

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him

That Hivon and Cloutier have, in these early days, emerged as the front-runners is indicative of the party's lukewarm feelings about Péladeau's leadership.

Though the party overwhelmingly backed his campaign, Hivon and Cloutier were in the minority who stood fast against the tide. 

And the one potential candidate who would have represented continuity with Péladeau's regime — House Leader Bernard Drainville — has opted not to run.

Of course there may be other poor players who will seek to strut and fret their hour upon the stage: Martine Ouellet sent out a suggestive tweet on Sunday; former finance minister Nicolas Marceau is said to be counting his supporters; and Jean-François Lisée is known to have Lady Macbeth-sized ambitions. 

​But with the attention drawn thus far by Hivon and Cloutier, they risk launching campaigns full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing in the end.