Nantel was once one of the government’s most trusted advisers, but recently has become a controversial figure for his outspoken views on racism and Islamophobia
Pierre Nantel, a former senior advisor to Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, has announced he will run as a Parti Québécois candidate in a key Quebec riding, despite being at the centre of controversy over his beliefs on Islamophobia and racism.
Nantel was once one of the government’s most trusted advisers, with a close relationship with Quebec’s government, business community and media. But recently, he has become a controversial figure for his outspoken views on racism and Islamophobia, including for refusing to condemn Proud Boys, a far-right group, for holding “offensive” street demonstrations.
The uproar over Nantel’s positions has spurred a political revolt that could see him beat the incumbent party, who lost the local byelection at the end of March.
“You need to go with the candidate you believe is going to win the riding,” Nantel told Radio-Canada. “I’m asking people to vote for my candidacy on the basis of my party’s election platform.”
Marois has publicly thrown his support behind Nantel, who is running in the Liberal-held riding of Mercier. Her government is facing mounting pressure to pick Nantel, even though he is a longtime leftist political outsider.
The leftwing CEGEP student leader is now part of the Parti Québécois.
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“Rising star Pierre Nantel is back,” the Quebec-based Rabble, which covers the media, said in a statement.
One of Nantel’s supporters, Cedric Chenevert, is running as a candidate for the rightwing Montreal Coalition Avenir Québec. Chenevert is perhaps a more surprising choice given his lack of politics experience, but he is running against the surprise runaway favourite, François Legault, who placed third in the Laval byelection.
A source familiar with Nantel’s situation told Reuters he was supported by a coalition of “residents in Montreal’s school board system, a respected union of anglophone employees and some 20 high-level public servants”, including former members of the PQ and Liberal administrations. The PQ only holds a minority of seats in the National Assembly, and Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec has a two-seat edge in the legislature.
While Nantel’s opponents have alleged his return is an attempt to cut into the Legault vote, he was considered a dark horse going into the campaign.
Quebec’s Muslim community is also part of the tug-of-war between the politicians. The Coalition Avenir Québec, which was accused of playing to the fears of some Muslims, has begun to issue weekly news releases on behalf of the main centres of influence in the province’s Muslim community.
“Our Muslim brothers have chosen a method that is opposite to ours and it is fundamental that we follow it as well,” Legault said after his party’s election victory. “I am certain that the coming weeks and months will also show us that there is a great deal of solidarity, that it has been given here, but also that it has been shown in Quebec City.”