You can forgive Parti Québécois supporters for being elated about Pierre Karl Péladeau’s jump into active politics. Not that the PQ is unable to attract star candidates; it has done so for years. But PKP, as he’s known, is something else entirely.
Like him or not – and when people hate him, they hate him intensely – the former Quebecor CEO isn’t just a titan of Quebec Inc. He’s as close to a pop star as a captain of industry can be in this distinct society.
For sovereigntists, Mr. Péladeau’s decision to run as a candidate for the National Assembly is incredibly uplifting news. To sum it up crudely: The PQ has never had difficulty attracting candidates who grew up in the arts, journalism or social activism. But big business was not a domain where the PQ found fertile ground, to say the least. Quebec’s captains of industries tend to be reliably federalist.
“Well done, Madame Marois,” said banker and former Conservative federal cabinet minister Michael Fortier, a (federalist) friend of Mr. Péladeau, when I talked to him Tuesday. “It’s a remarkable draft pick for her, notwithstanding the criticism of the other parties, who would have themselves recruited Pierre Karl in a heartbeat.”
Of course, Mr. Péladeau’s recruitment gives instant star power to Premier Pauline Marois’s bid for a majority. But it also deals a potentially mortal blow to the fortunes of Coalition Avenir Québec. Those who voted for the CAQ’s brand of fiscal responsibility despite strong feelings about Quebec’s national destiny might be swayed by seeing Mr. Péladeau on the PQ’s roster.
Still, there is something strange about the PKP-PQ marriage. Yes, Mr. Péladeau is a sovereigntist and has sent signals to that effect in recent years. Sunday, “le pays” was front and centre in his speech to PQ militants. But the PQ is traditionally viewed as left of centre, a North American foothold for Scandinavian-style social democracy. As anyone who has seen him in action or heard his speeches can attest, Mr. Péladeau is closer to a Reagan Republican.
“Debates in Quebec politics take place mostly around federalist/sovereigntist themes, which annoys me. I wish it weren’t the case, but unfortunately it is,” said Mr. Fortier. “Take out the sovereignty issue and I don’t think Pierre Karl would be at the PQ. Just like a lot of federalists would vote PQ, were it not for its sovereignty ideal.”
He took on the unions unreservedly at Quebecor, as far back as 1994, when his father was in charge. A couple of years ago, as CEO, Mr. Péladeau forced a bitter and protracted lockout at the Journal de Montréal that ended up destroying the paper’s union. Stéphane Bergeron, a PQ MNA at the time, declared Quebecor a “lockout champion.” Mr. Bergeron is now a senior minister in Ms. Marois’s cabinet.
Strange bedfellows, indeed. Claudette Carbonneau and Marc Laviolette, two former presidents of the huge Confédération des syndicats nationaux trade union, closer to Tommy Douglas’s view of the world, both welcomed Mr. Péladeau’s jump into politics.
But if you are a Péquiste militant, this is what keeps you going: the idea that Quebec will eventually be independent. In the party ranks, PKP joining the PQ is universally seen as a move that could bolster the very idea of sovereignty.
There is already speculation that Mr. Péladeau will seek the PQ leadership one day. After all, he is not used to playing second fiddle. But assuming he is elected and promoted to a cabinet position, his immediate challenges will be more practical, Mr. Fortier warned.
“Pierre Karl has not been given proper credit for his stellar recruiting at Quebecor. He recruited A-list managers at all levels of the company. If he is ever a cabinet minister, he’ll have to deal and work with people he will not have chosen: his cabinet colleagues and public servants. It was challenging for me when in Ottawa. And I am much more patient than Pierre Karl!”
Last Sunday, on that sunny day in St-Jérôme, when Mr. Péladeau walked arm in arm with Pauline Marois outside the PQ campaign bus, nothing could have distracted Péquistes from their sheer joy. They wanted to talk to “Pierre Karl,” touching him and calling him by his given name.
Will Mr. Péladeau be the PQ’s weapon of mass persuasion, to be used in favour of the Yes side in a third referendum?
Who knows. But I do know this: He most certainly isn’t entering politics to be a provincial cabinet minister. To me, his involvement shatters the conventional wisdom that the PQ isn’t really keen to hold a third referendum. I’m certain that it is.
Patrick Lagacé is a columnist with La Presse.