Before Claire Samson, there was arguably no Éric Duhaime.

The former Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) MNA for Iberville was booted from caucus after it was discovered she had made a $100 donation to the Quebec Conservative Party (PCQ).

Yet, in a surprising twist of events following the National Assembly drama, the PCQ saw its popularity skyrocket and its leader, Duhaime, thrust into the spotlight.

The 53-year-old former journalist has served as head of the PCQ since 2021 -- when he won the leadership with 95.99 per cent of the vote.

Duhaime has never been elected, with his last attempt in 2003 when he ran with the now defunct Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) in the riding of Deux-Montagnes, placing third.

CTV News: What is your top issue during this election and why?

Éric Duhaime: The cost of living is our biggest concern; inflation is at its highest, and the average family is having a hard time making ends meet.

CTV News: What issues, over the last mandate, are you most concerned about?

Duhaime: The way François Legault divided Quebecers, especially with Bill 96, which brought back some historical linguistic fights instead of focusing on real issues.

The same goes with the pandemic, dividing workers between essential and non-essential.

CTV News: How strongly do you think you came across as an opposition party during the last mandate considering you were not elected?

Duhaime: The three other opposition parteies at the National Assembly didn't give enough opposition in the Salon Bleu during the last two years.

They were all agreeing with François Legault, which is one of the main reasons why I decided to step into the political arena.

I truly think we're the only opposition to François Legault, especially when it comes to linguistic rights.

CTV News: Are you surprised at the popularity/attention your party has received following Claire Samson's arrival?

Duhaime: I'm mainly surprised about how much we've grown during the last year.

We went from 500 members to 60,000 members, from one per cent in the polls to 14, 19 or 21 per cent, depending on which poll you're looking at.

Indeed, bringing Claire Samson into the Conservative caucus gave us more media attention and a voice in the National Assembly.

I'll be forever grateful to her.

CTV News: Why do you think your party has gained so much popularity recently? Do you attribute it to controversial things you've said?

Duhaime: I don't think I've said anything that controversial. I would attribute our popularity to my opposition to the current government.

CTV News: Do you plan to remain party leader no matter the results?

Duhaime: When I announced that I was running to become the leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec, I said it loud and clear that it'll be for a decade.

CTV News: If your party is elected, what do you think your biggest challenge is going to be?

Duhaime: Inexperience. Even for myself, it's my first time being a party leader -- same goes for my team; a lot of them are in their first experience in their position.

Although, being a smaller team allows us to better control the flow of information and send the right messages.

CTV News: Do you plan to encourage gender parity in your party? How do you expect to retain female politicians, especially regarding issues of work-life balance, sexual harassment etc.?

Duhaime: We don't preach for gender parity. We believe in competence, and we believe women are as competent as men.

We will never discriminate against a woman who has issues with work-life balance and will always accommodate them.

We will never tolerate sexual harassment -- this is a big no for me.

CTV News: What made you interested in running for office? Is it what you expected it to be?

Duhaime: I voted my whole life. I voted for François Legault during the last election, and when I realized that he betrayed his voters and that nobody opposed him, I told myself that I needed to run to make a change.

Honestly, I am not where I expected myself to be.

I told myself I would be satisfied if I was elected in my riding, but I'm seeing now that we're competitive in many of them [the ridings].

It's beyond my expectation.

CTV News: What is one positive thing you experienced during the pandemic?

Duhaime: The growth of my political party.

CTV News: What's your favourite thing about being on the campaign trail?

Duhaime: Being able to share my ideas and values with all Quebecers.

I believe many conservatives who don't yet know they are part of our political family, and my goal will be to be heard and understood by them.

CTV News: In one sentence or two, why should people vote for your party?

Duhaime: Our main objective with the proposals of the Conservative Party is to unite the Quebecers, not divide them.

We want to give them more choices for their health care, more money in their pockets with tax cuts, as well as protect the French language in a positive way and repeal Bill 96, which mainly aims at dividing the English community and the French community.

This profile is part of a series spotlighting Quebec's five main party leaders. The Parti Québécois (PQ) has chosen not to participate. Responses have been edited for clarity and concision.