Pierre Karl Péladeau reigns over an empire of scrappy tabloids and populist television channels catering to conservative meat eaters.
But the staples of the Quebecor Inc. chief’s news diet are Le Monde and the French CBC, media outlets that are perceived as left-leaning and are routinely attacked by his own publications.
To Mr. Péladeau, the suggestion that he is politically motivated and that Sun News is a platform for his political ideas, in essence making him Canada’s Rupert Murdoch, is offensive. Quebecor’s media properties are not vanity projects, he says, and he does not impose his tastes on his newspapers. He is concerned only with their profitability.
The media magnate insists that his crusade to force the CBC and its French-language arm Radio-Canada to release confidential data about their operations – including the salaries of Peter Mansbridge and other network stars – is not about politics or ideology. It is about taxpayer dollars, and how they impact Quebecor’s bottom line.
If Mr. Péladeau has personally taken up the cause – taking centre stage in October at a parliamentary hearing into the applicability of the federal Access to Information law to the CBC – it is because the stakes are mountain high for Quebecor.
“Since when have I ever made my personal political views known?” Mr. Péladeau charges in a boardroom in Quebecor’s new Montreal office tower, where a bust of his late father, Pierre Péladeau, looms over the proceedings. “I never have.”
Sparking a political debate about the CBC and its mandate could provide a boost to Quebecor if it leads, as is widely rumoured, to major cuts to the public broadcaster’s $1.1-billion annual subsidy in the 2012 federal budget.
Radio-Canada remains Quebecor’s primary competitor in Quebec, where Quebecor Media controls the top-ranked TVA network. TVA has seen its market share shrink dramatically with the proliferation of French-language specialty channels, lead by BCE Inc.’s Réseau des Sports and Astral Media Inc’s family of properties.
In English Canada, the survival of the eight-month-old Sun News Network depends in part on siphoning viewers from the CBC’s all-news channel. And to hear Mr. Péladeau tell it, the survival of the Sun tabloids, which Quebecor bought in 1998, depends just as much on the success of their sister cable channel.
While his colourful father never missed an opportunity to stir the political pot, even coming close to endorsing Quebec separatism, those who know the younger Mr. Péladeau best insist he is neither ideological nor politically-aligned.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney sits on Quebecor’s board and remains one of the Mr. Péladeau’s most trusted advisers. But the connection was established by the father, who hired Mr. Mulroney, then a young labour lawyer, to negotiate the first collective agreement at the Journal de Montréal in 1964. Theirs is a business relationship, not a political one.
“Pierre Karl inherited his father’s entrepreneurial fibre,” says Quebecor chairwoman Françoise Bertrand, a former Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission head under Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien. “He believes that government has a role in regulating what needs to be regulated … but that wealth creation is ensured by entrepreneurs, not governments.”
Mr. Péladeau is an unsentimental chief executive officer. His critics have another word for his management style: ruthless. It explains why the he has inherited none of the affection the Quebec public lavished on his father. With philosophy and law degrees under his belt, Mr. Péladeau would rather cite Montesquieu (as he does in our interview).
His feet are firmly planted, however, when it comes to running Quebecor.
A record two-year-long lockout at Le Journal de Montréal that ended last February, resulting in the departure of all but 62 of the tabloid’s 253 unionized employees, cemented Mr. Péladeau’s tough-guy persona in Quebeckers’ minds.
“If we don’t change the print media model, the acceleration of our own death is inevitable,” Mr. Péladeau explains. “Sun News is an emanation of a strategy where, if we want to assure the jobs of the 1,000 journalists we employ, we must multiply our distribution channels to generate additional revenues.”
The idea for Sun News came from Kory Teneycke, Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s former communications director and now a vice-president at the network. He envisioned its role as a Canadian version of Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News Network – hence, the nickname Fox News North – pushing conservative causes and politicians.
But if Mr. Péladeau signed on, it was strictly for the money-making potential.
“It’s a business strategy, period,” Mr. Péladeau insists. “As the leader of a company that acquired a certain number of newspapers several years ago, I have to be sensitive to their brand and their history.”