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LYSIANE GAGNON

Stars align for Péladeau’s leadership ambition Add to ...

It’s hard to believe, but true: Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Quebecor press baron turned politician, is well on his way to becoming the next leader of the Parti Québécois.

The party apparatus is in the hands of his partisans, which will give him a handsome lead over the other contenders in the leadership race that will officially kick off in June.

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Stéphane Bédard, the MNA for Chicoutimi who was elected interim leader of the party by his peers after Pauline Marois announced her resignation, is a long-time ally of Mr. Péladeau. Three years ago, Mr. Bédard was instrumental in pushing the PQ, then in opposition, to support the former Liberal government’s controversial decision to inject $200-million of taxpayers’ money into the arena being built in Quebec City. It is a pet project for Mr. Péladeau, who dreams of having his own hockey club, as a nationalist counterpart to the Montreal Canadiens, owned by the Molson family.

Mr. Bédard’s brother, Éric, managing partner for the Montreal law firm Fasken Martineau, is a close associate of Mr. Péladeau. Another brother, Maxime, is vice-president of legal affairs for Quebecor’s Groupe TVA. Martin Tremblay, a former aide to Stéphane Bédard, is also a Quebecor vice-president.

Other possible contenders for the PQ leadership include former ministers Jean-François Lisée, a high-profile blogger and long-time PQ strategist, and Bernard Drainville, a former CBC reporter who was responsible for the divisive secular charter. Both men are much better public speakers and better versed in active politics than Mr. Péladeau, but the party machine, it seems, will be rolling for PKP.

Theoretically, PKP and the PQ are an oxymoron. How could an arch-right-wing businessman be elected as leader of a party rooted in social democracy? In English Canada, Mr. Péladeau’s Sun News Network is commonly billed as “Fox News North.” And in Quebec, his ruthless dealings with newspaper unions won Quebecor the nickname of “lockout champion.”

Still, the decline of the sovereigntist option is such that for many supporters, Mr. Péladeau’s business credentials and forceful character represent the movement’s last chance. His dramatic coming-out during the election campaign was celebrated by left-leaning sovereigntists, including former party leader Jacques Parizeau and former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and a large group of former union activists. They all knew, of course, that Mr. Péladeau wasn’t leaving his privileged perch at Quebecor to become a simple cabinet minister, let alone a backbencher – that his goal was to win the top job.

The PQ has already compromised on its progressive beliefs in order to accommodate Mr. Péladeau. At their latest conseil national, militants quietly dropped an “anti-scab” policy from the party platform. (During tough, protracted lockouts at its two daily newspapers, Quebecor used virtual offices and a host of recently promoted newsroom managers to replace unionized staff.)

One of the first decisions of Ms. Marois’s government was to appoint Mr. Péladeau as chair of Hydro-Québec. It made him the most powerful man in the province, considering the disproportionate importance of Quebecor and the utility in Quebec’s economic and political life.

All this is a thing of the past now that the PQ has lost and Mr. Péladeau has become a simple backbencher. But this turn of events actually suits his ambition: If the party had won a majority, Ms. Marois would be in place for at least four years. Now, the route is wide open.

Still, many wonder how this impulsive and quick-tempered man, who’s used to having his way, will adapt to the subtle art of politics.

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