Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois smiles during a news conference in Laval, July 25, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
The 35-year veteran separatist enters her eighth election campaign having survived an internal coup attempt. She now stands poised to take power and begin a third march towards a sovereignty referendum. Her party has been neck-and-neck with the governing Liberal in recent opinion polls.
Marois almost didn't make it to the cusp of power after several hardline separatists quit the party last year after accusing the 63-year-old of going too slowly on Quebec independence.
Through it all, Marois steadfastly refused to even entertain suggestions of stepping down and later had her leadership confirmed in a vote at a party convention.
Her position secure, Marois has maintained the go-slow approach to sovereignty first championed by Lucien Bouchard, who talked of "winning conditions" before calling a third referendum.
But while Marois has preferred to hammer Premier Jean Charest on corruption, health care and language rather than national unity, a top PQ MNA let slip the party's plans to muck up the federation if elected.
Bernard Drainville, a former CBC reporter and now a top PQ critic, told a Toronto newspaper his party plans to manufacture fights with Ottawa to gain more money and power, and use any defeat to push for sovereignty.
Drainville went further than his own leader, who has said the PQ is not committed to a referendum if she wins the election.
Marois told a Montreal radio station this week that her party wouldn't rule out the possibility of holding a referendum in a "timely" fashion and "if it's possible to do."
Charest, meanwhile, said Marois can't run away from her party's reason for being. He has routinely reminded voters that sovereignty is the first item in the PQ's manifesto.
"The priority of Ms. Marois and the PQ is to hold a referendum as soon as possible," he told reporters on Monday. "The priority of my government and my party is jobs and the economy, so it's as simple as that.
"There are two visions of the future of Quebec ... that are in conflict."