"Okay, who is this guy, and what have they done with the real Andre Boisclair?"
That thought occurred to a journalist early in the news conference by what seemed to be a double of the Parti Quebecois leader after the weekend meeting in Quebec City of the party's national council.
For most of the time since Boisclair declared his candidacy for the PQ leadership last year, he has generally been frustratingly non-committal in his public statements and answers to questions on policy.
But at this news conference, his answers were so uncharacteristically direct that they were sometimes followed by a second of stunned silence, as questioners already mentally preparing follow-ups to try to pin him down were left gaping.
Wasn't his position on the nationalization of wind power different from the one the council had taken? "Absolutely."
Was he prepared to pay a political price for cancelling Highway 25 from Montreal to the swing ridings in Laval and other road-building in favour of maintaining existing highways? "What pays in politics is frankness, and putting your priorities on the table."
But wouldn't there be political consequences? "I accept my responsibilities."
Earlier, in his closing speech to the council, he had delivered his response to the council's vote in favour of nationalizing wind power, a popular measure among party members in some regions. "The answer is no," he said. There was only scattered applause, as most delegates sat in stony - or stunned - silence.
It's hardly the first time a PQ leader has told party members at the end of a meeting that he would ignore a resolution they had adopted. It's been a PQ tradition since Rene Levesque founded the party. But it was the first time Boisclair showed the self-confidence to do it.
The 40-year-old Boisclair's leadership campaign rejuvenated the PQ by bringing in new, younger members, as was evident again at the weekend meeting. But Boisclair's own transformation as leader lagged well behind that of the party.
It didn't take place overnight. Rather, it occurred over several months, in a series of steps, timid at first, then increasingly bold, each one encouraged by the party's response to the one before it.
The process began last June. Announcing he would enter the National Assembly through a by-election in the sovereignist stronghold of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Boisclair said his priorities would be education, sustainable development and the economy - but did not mention sovereignty. And nobody in the party complained.
A few days later, at Boisclair's first national council meeting as leader, the council signalled its pragmatism by rejecting a proposal to cut public subsidies to private schools. This emboldened Boisclair to send a signal of his own in his closing speech, announcing several commitments in education that could be implemented at least in part without sovereignty.
This was significant because the party program Boisclair inherited when he became leader called for the PQ to fight the next election on a "project for a country" presuming a sovereignist victory in a referendum. Subtly, Boisclair had begun to distance himself from the program and move toward a two-tier election platform.
To the original platform for a sovereign Quebec would be added a stripped-down version for a conventional provincial government in which the education commitments were the first plank. The environment plank adopted on the weekend, most of which can be implemented by a provincial government, is the second.
Then, after a pause for the summer, Boisclair three weeks ago scrapped the part of the program calling for the PQ to fight the election on sovereignty and the "project for a country."
Boisclair has encountered little resistance from hard-line sovereignists. What internal opposition he does face has come from SPQ Libre, a left-wing "political club" within the party.
Boisclair still seemed nervous at times on the weekend, speaking so fast in his closing speech that he was sometimes hard to understand.
But a year after his election as leader, he finally seemed to be growing into the job.
A confident Andre Boisclair sounds like a different man
It looks like he is growing into the job of leading the Parti Quebecois