Almost four years ago, when he announced he was running for the leadership of the Parti Québécois, his detractors dismissed him as a stuffy intellectual prone to speaking in overly long sentences. He just couldn’t connect with the average voter: “monsieur et madame Tout-le-Monde.”
However, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon not only eventually won the leadership of the PQ, but would soon begin to revive the party’s fortunes after being elected alongside Camille-Laurin in the last provincial election. And, in a surprising defeat for the Coalition Avenir Québec government in a by-election last October, voters in Jean-Talon voted for the first time for a PQ candidate, Pascal Paradis.
A month later, a Léger public opinion poll ranked St-Pierre Plamondon as more popular than Prime Minister François Legault. On Friday, after appearing on the Montreal Gazette’s The Corner Booth podcast, St-Pierre Plamondon attempted to explain his newfound popularity.
“What’s your secret sauce?” a reporter asked him at Snowdon Deli.
“My secret sauce?” she responded, bursting into laughter. “I don’t know. This is the first time someone has asked me about this, the secret of Caramilk.”
He paused, taking the question seriously.
“You can’t get caught up in the polls. My poll numbers may go down. They may continue to rise. “They really don’t matter.”
Perhaps it is St-Pierre Plamondon’s enthusiasm for his role as PQ leader, if not his unabashed acceptance of Quebec sovereignty, that is resonating with francophones who have grown tired of the CAQ government’s management of a system of deteriorating health and decrepit public schools.
“I can’t assume I know why people support me. What I do know is that people often stop me on the street and say, ‘We appreciate you.’ We like the way you do your work. Many times people grab me by the forearm and shake me (by the shoulders). It’s pretty special. But this is not the result of a pre-planned strategy (on my part). “We’re just doing our job.”
Still, St-Pierre Plamondon, a lawyer by profession who studied at McGill University, acknowledged growing dissatisfaction with the CAQ government. He suggested that Quebecers are losing faith in the CAQ and are beginning to put their trust back in the PQ.
“There is no longer trust in the CAQ, because they say everything,” he explained. “People are realizing this.”
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Slender and clean-cut, the father of three looks younger than his 46 years (he turns 47 next month), in contrast to the 66-year-old Legault. Does St-Pierre Plamondon believe he can represent a new generation of Quebecers?
That may be the case, he agreed. But St-Pierre Plamondon also said he is connecting with young voters who belong to what he described as the Instagram generation and who have become disenchanted with simplistic political messages. He cited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an example of a politician whose social media posts may be turning off the younger generation, as he is always “showing off his socks and taking selfies.”
“I think people are realizing that if politicians focus too much on their image and not on the content, this could have consequences on their lives. “Perhaps what we are seeing is a rebalance towards politicians who are more interested in public policy.”
Still, St-Pierre Plamondon admitted that his “intellectual” approach did not have many followers at first.
“At first they told me, ‘You’ll never achieve any success because you’re too intellectual and your sentences are too long.’ At that time, only 3 per cent of Quebecers considered me potentially prime minister. So I went through a few years that were very difficult and people told me that what I was doing would never work. Furthermore, almost every day they said that the Parti Québécois was on the verge of death.
“And now it is absolutely the other way around because my sentences are long, because I explain (my positions). People say, ‘I have time for this. I trust him more than someone who is playing with me to get my vote.’ “