MONTREAL - Quebec media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau's journey to become the father of a country begins in earnest in 2015.
The controlling shareholder of Quebecor Inc. is the acknowledged front-runner in the Parti Quebecois leadership race, which will end in May.
While some polls have suggested Peladeau is already the man Quebecers want as premier, the next provincial election will be held only in September 2018.
So, if Peladeau does replace Pauline Marois as PQ leader, he will have three years to be successful in his seemingly simple but yet daunting plan: to revive a moribund sovereignty movement.
One possible negative in his becoming leader is that Quebecers will be getting a much closer look at a relative political neophyte unaccustomed to the cut and thrust of public life.
Peladeau, whose Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) is one of the main players in the province's cable, Internet, cellphone and media markets, says his primary goal in entering politics is to make Canada's second most populous province a country.
Asked on Nov. 27, when he officially declared his leadership campaign, what his main theme would be, he replied without hesitation: "Sovereignty.''
"Sovereignty, yes,'' he said. "I think it's clear that I've committed to achieving Quebec sovereignty. It is my objective, my only objective.''
Although Quebecers' support for independence continues to stubbornly stick around 35 per cent, the next few years present Peladeau an opportunity to make an economic case for the province to go on its own.
The brunt of sweeping Liberal government cuts to programs across the board should be felt in 2015, leaving Peladeau in the politically enviable position of critiquing while being free of making the tough decisions.
He was one of only 30 PQ candidates to win a seat in last spring's election, which pundits say he helped his party lose.
The PQ never recovered from that fateful Sunday morning, early in the campaign, when Peladeau raised his right fist and said he would fight to break Quebec off from Canada.
Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry chuckled when reminded in an interview with The Canadian Press that pundits across the country declared Quebec sovereignty dead after the PQ's dismal election results last April.
"It reminds me of 1975 when prime minister Pierre Trudeau said separatism was dead and a few months later the PQ was in power," Landry said, referring to PQ co-founder Rene Levesque's 1976 election victory and 1980 referendum call.
Landry, who came out early in support of Peladeau's leadership bid, said the media baron will dominate Quebec politics in 2015.
Peladeau's unambiguous stated goal of Quebec sovereignty will unite the party the way Levesque did, Landry said.
"How?" he asked. "Through an ideological convergence. Not to the left, not to the right, but forward."
Guy Lachapelle, a political science professor at Concordia University, disagrees with Landry that Peladeau is similar to Levesque and believes he is more like Jacques Parizeau, the "uncharismatic but efficient" PQ leader of the 1990s.
The ex-finance minister won the 1994 election after years of spending cuts in the civil service by the Liberals under Robert Bourassa.
Parizeau also bet everything on sovereignty, promising to hold a referendum within a year if the PQ won the 1994 election. He did become premier but saw the Yes side lose the 1995 referendum by ja little more than one percentage point.
Lachapelle said the current Liberal budget austerity drive could have the same consequences as in 1994.
"We are exactly, I think, in the same situation," he said.
Lachapelle is also convinced Peladeau will become PQ leader but that his challenge will be to show Quebecers that "sovereignty is a viable economic option."
He will be able to position himself against Couillard, the ardent federalist who says an economically reformed Quebec inside Canada is the best way forward.
Since taking office last spring Couillard has cut provincial transfers to cities, ended universal rates for coveted subsidized daycare spots and introduced a series of cuts to tax credits for banks, insurance companies and research centres. The cuts are aimed at restoring a balanced budget in 2015-16.
One of Peladeau's real challenges will be to become the great uniter as predicted by Landry.
Quebecor was involved in several highly publicized lockouts of its employees in the early 2000s, incidents that are not lost on the usually PQ-friendly labour movement.
His perception in some quarters as a ruthless capitalist who led a crusade against the CBC's French-language service — Quebecor's fiercest TV competitor in Quebec — has also not helped him.
Peladeau is already trying to re-position himself as a union-friendly social democrat and champion of Quebec culture and language — even of the CBC.
He has also came out against the Quebec Liberal government's budget cuts, telling a Montreal newspaper that Couillard has taken a "chainsaw" to the province's budget.
Peladeau will have thousands of angry unionists to court over the next 12 months, as they have promised to take to the streets to protest Couillard's measures.
If he wants to take power, Peladeau will also have to win over voters who cast a ballot with the Coalition for Quebec's Future, a right-of-centre party that won 22 seats last April.
The Francois Legault-led party is popular in Quebec City and in other pockets of the province and almost matched the PQ vote percentage with about 25 per cent.
Helene Daneault, a former member of the legislature for the party, said in an interview Peladeau will steal headlines in 2015 but she isn't convinced he is the saviour Landry is predicting.
She said polls suggesting he would be the favourite to become premier remind her of surveys that indicated the same for Legault just before he founded the Coalition three years ago.
"Quebecers love to believe in the saviour but eventuality reality sets in," she said. "They want jobs and an attractive retirement plan. Quebecers don't want to hear about independence."
Recent history is on Daneault's side.
The Liberals won 70 seats last spring. Moreover, the party has more than three years to prove to Quebecers that the spending cuts were worth it — and that Quebecers are better off in Canada.
But Landry says Quebecers will never believe that, adding it takes a leader like Peladeau to finally convince them the time is right.
"The cause (of Quebec sovereignty) is so strong," he said. "Its foundations are so logical, that if we speak to Quebecers honestly about it, face-to-face, they can't help but support it."
Lachapelle pointed to a November survey that indicated support for sovereignty stood at 36 per cent.
"Look at the polls," he said. "Not so bad for a topic that we never discuss, eh?"