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Parti Quebecois leadership hopefuls jockey for position as caucus meets

QUEBEC - Will they or won't they?

That was the looming question around a Parti Quebecois caucus meeting on Wednesday as several potential contenders for the party leadership acknowledged they are "reflecting" on running for the top job.

There are no declared candidates yet — the race is only expected to be triggered this fall — but several elected members are openly mulling possible bids, including former cabinet ministers Jean-Francois Lisee and Bernard Drainville.

While Wednesday's two-day meeting is to plan for the resumption of work at the legislature on Sept. 16, it was the leadership question that remained the focus.

Media tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau hasn't openly discussed whether he plans to run. The former president and CEO of media giant Quebecor and rookie provincial politician brushed off repeated questions about his interest, only saying that it's "premature" to say he'll be a candidate.

Others were more forthcoming on how far along they are in the "reflection" process.

Lisee, a senior member of the former PQ government, told reporters his candidacy is being strongly encouraged and running for the leadership would be a logical next step in his sovereignty movement career.

The outspoken Lisee also brushed off perceptions of Peladeau as the front-runner.

"It's very, very early in the race," Lisee said.

Drainville, the minister who was behind the now-defunct charter of values secularism project promoted by the PQ, says he too is close to making a decision.

Among the first to publicly declare an interest in the leadership, Drainville says he wants to see the PQ return to being a "machine of ideas."

Drainville said it's too early to talk about throwing support behind one candidate or another.

Syvlain Gaudreault, a former municipal affairs minister, praised Peladeau's views on economic nationalism and called the business mogul the "super-rookie" on the PQ team. That said, Gaudreault hasn't ruled out a run for the leadership himself.

"I have support, but the question is more fundamental," Gaudreault said. "We must reflect a lot on the reasons for which we want to run."

Martine Ouellet, another possible candidate, hasn't hidden her interest in the leader's job and is positioning herself as the defender of the middle class. She said she's close to deciding.

Alexandre Cloutier, the youngest potential candidate at just 36, said he's had numerous meetings and hopes to propose a "new" Parti Quebecois.

Interim party leader Stephane Bedard says that the fact a large number of candidates are interested "demonstrates the power of the Parti Quebecois." He said the party will come out of the race stronger.

The PQ won only 30 of the province's 125 ridings in this spring's provincial election and captured just 25 per cent of the popular vote.

The next leader would replace Pauline Marois, who announced her resignation on the night of the April 7 election when the party lost to the Liberals.

The task of rebuilding the party would have to be completed by 2018, the next time Quebecers go to the polls.

The PQ brass are expected to iron out rules for the leadership race during a meeting on Oct. 4 in Sherbrooke.

Originally, the party had said it would introduce the rules and set a date to announce the leader on Sept. 27 before it was decided to put that news off for a week.

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