“I am running because I believe in Québec solidaire,” Nadeau-Dubois told the crowd in English. “But also and especially because I believe in what this party can become […] I believe that QS can, and must, become a leading political force in Quebec.”

The former student leader railed against a political class which, he argued, has betrayed Quebecers, and must be removed from power.

“It always puts its friends – the big corporations, the engineering firms, the doctors’ lobby – before the people of Quebec. In power or not, whether red or blue, it always makes the same choices.”

“This political class has either chosen to divide us, according to our region, religion, our origin, or it has instrumentalized those divisions — all to win elections.”

Nadeau-Dubois announced that if elected spokesperson he plans to recruit an all-star team of candidates to run in the next election, to push for a merger with left-wing sovereigntist party Option Nationale, and to use digital organizing tools to mobilize the younger generation.

Asked if he believed an eventual merger with the PQ was necessary to gain power, he responded no, reiterating that QS was capable of becoming a leading political force in Quebec. Notably, Nadeau-Dubois repeated parts go his remarks in English.

From activism to politics

Québec solidaire employs one male and one female spokesperson in lieu of a leader, and has seen both MNA Françoise David and former candidate Andres Fontecilla resign from their leadership positions in recent months. Saint-Marie—Saint-Jacques MNA Manon Massé has announced her intention to seek the female spokesperson role.

The highly anticipated entry of the activist and award-winning author into active politics provides a key boost for the small left wing party, which has grown steadily over its ten year history and won three seats in Quebec’s National Assembly in the 2014 election.

Québec solidaire will hold a nomination meeting in the riding of Gouin on March 26 to select its candidate for the upcoming byelection to replace retiring David.

Assuming he wins the nomination, which seems likely, Nadeau-Dubois appears almost assured of winning the byelection. David won the Montreal riding in 2014 with more than 50 per cent of the vote, more than tripling the result of the PQ candidate who placed a distant second. Facing bleak internal poll numbers, the Parti Québécois has already announced that it will not run a candidate against QS in the byelection, all but ceding the riding to the party’s nominee.

His first test, however, may come at the party congress in May, where members will elect two new spokespeople.

A candidate of the left

The 26 year-old Nadeau-Dubois rose to prominence as a spokesperson for CLASSE, the largest student coalition during the 2012 student strike, and has continued to maintain a high profile in Quebec. Until leaving last year to work on the Faut qu’on se parle consultation project, he was a commentator for Radio-Canada, and a columnist for Ricochet.

In 2014 he won a Governor-General’s Literary Award and donated the $25,000 cash prize to Coule pas chez nous, an anti-pipeline group. He announced the donation on Quebec’s most popular television show, and invited Quebecers to help match his donation. Within a week he raised over $400,000 for the group.

Last year he spearheaded a consultation project called “We Need to Talk” (Faut qu’on se parle) with a group of prominent Quebecers that included former Option nationale leader Jean-Martin Aussant, the David Suzuki Foundation’s Karel Mayrand, Black community advocate Will Prosper, former head of a rural farming advocacy group Claire Bolduc, feminist author Aurélie Lanctôt, and Cree activist Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash, among others. Over the course of several months, members of the group participated in over 200 small meetings in kitchens across the province, and dozens of large consultations in major urban centres, inviting Quebecers to discuss what kind of society they want to build.

The project culminated in a book released last month, “Don’t Give Up” (Ne renonçons à rien), summarizing what the group heard from Quebecers over the course of the tour. Raw results were also released in an open-source format.

The anti-pipeline initiative, which may have been the most successful crowdfunder in Quebec history, is only one example of Nadeau-Dubois’ ability to win broad support from Quebec’s population.

After the 2012 student strike, Nadeau-Dubois faced contempt of court charges for appearing on a television program and encouraging striking students to maintain picket lines in the face of court injunctions ordering classes to resume.

He launched a crowdfunder to support his legal defence, which raised more than $100,000, and fought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he won a precedent-setting judgment exonerating him last year.

The question is whether he can convince the masses of Quebecers who supported him as a student leader and environmental activist to follow him into the ranks of a political party which polls between 10 and 15 per cent and holds only three of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. If he can, then he may very well get his wish for the party to become a leading political force in Quebec.