Pierre Karl Péladeau's resignation may help the Parti Québécois: Éric Grenier

The surprise resignation of Pierre Karl Péladeau as Parti Québécois leader on Monday may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the party, as the PQ failed to make any inroads against a troubled government under his tumultuous leadership.

PQ leader was unable to make any gains against a struggling Liberal government

Pierre Karl Péladeau resigned as leader of the Parti Québécois for the well-being of his children, he said. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

In resigning as leader less than a year after winning the post, Pierre Karl Péladeau may have solved a potential problem for the Parti Québécois — his own leadership.

Péladeau's time as leader of the Parti Québécois was tumultuous, even by the standards of the PQ.

His political career was launched with a raised fist for Quebec independence, the beginning of a tailspin that took the PQ from front-runner in the 2014 provincial campaign to its worst result since 1970.

Billed as a saviour for the sovereignty movement, the media baron's leadership failed to lift the PQ back into contention again during his short stint as leader. He announced his resignation Monday, saying he was doing it "for the well-being of my children."

Since the beginning of 2016, the PQ under Péladeau had polled no better than 26 to 31 per cent of the vote, barely more than the 26 per cent the party captured in its disastrous 2014 showing under Pauline Marois.

The governing Liberals have polled between 32 and 36 per cent, leading a divided field despite dissatisfaction with Philippe Couillard's government topping 60 per cent in recent surveys.

Throughout Péladeau's leadership, which began on May 15, 2015, his party only led the Liberals for a short period immediately after he won the PQ's top job, and by just two or four points. Péladeau's "honeymoon," if it could be called that, lasted no more than a few weeks.

Provincial voting intentions polls (Léger & CROP) in Quebec since Pierre Karl Péladeau became leader of the Parti Québécois.

He did renew the PQ's links with Quebec's francophones to some extent, boosting the party's support levels among francophones to between 35 and 37 per cent in recent surveys. But that was no better than what the party was managing in 2012, when it barely squeaked out a minority government against a deeply unpopular Liberal government led by Jean Charest.

Trailing in leadership

The Parti Québécois has struggled in recent years in part because of a division in the sovereigntist vote. Polls since the beginning of the year suggest that, between them, the PQ and Québec Solidaire (a sovereigntist party widely seen as being to the left of the PQ) have the support of 41 per cent of Quebecers.

But Péladeau has been an obstacle to increasing the PQ's share of that tally.

A recent poll by Léger suggested Péladeau's approval rating was just 31 per cent, with 55 per cent of Quebecers disapproving of his job. That ranked Péladeau lower than fellow opposition party leaders François Legault and Françoise David.

It was also lower than the modest approval ratings Couillard was putting up in a quarterly polling by the Angus Reid Institute.

Péladeau has trailed Couillard on who Quebecers preferred to be premier since November. And despite the recent troubles for Couillard in Quebec, which have seen him fall as the choice for premier to around 20 per cent, Péladeau made no headway. Instead, his own numbers dipped below the 20 per cent mark.

Obstacle to unity removed?

One of the last major efforts Péladeau spearheaded as leader was to try to unite the sovereigntist movement, particularly in bringing together the PQ and Québec Solidaire. But he was always going to be an obstacle to that goal, as the conglomerate-owning union-buster was not seen as a friend to the province's progressives.

The recent poll by Léger, for instance, found that Péladeau had an approval rating of just 23 per cent among Québec Solidaire voters, lower even than their approval of Legault, leader of the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec.

While announcing his PQ candidacy in April 2014, media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau expresses his hopes for an independent Quebec, as then PQ leader Pauline Marois looks on. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A coalition of the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire could be a vote-winner. Léger found that such a coalition would garner 38 per cent of the vote, beating the Liberals by three points. It would also have the support of 47 per cent of francophones, an easy recipe for a majority government.

The PQ alone hasn't posted such good numbers since the beginning of the 2014 provincial election campaign — coincidentally just before Péladeau first pumped his fist skyward. 

Much depends on who the Parti Québécois chooses to lead it into the 2018 election. But its chances in that vote may have just significantly improved.

The poll on approval ratings and a potential PQ/QS coalition was conducted by Léger for Le Journal de Montréal and Le Devoir between March 21 and 22, 2016, interviewing 1,007 adult Quebecers who were members of an online panel. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.