As he launched the Sun News Network in 2010, Pierre Karl Péladeau publicly lamented the state of broadcast news in English Canada, saying viewers were increasingly tuning out or switching over to U.S. channels.
“That’s not good for Canadian television, that’s not good for Canadian democracy, and that’s not good for Canada itself,” he said at a news conference in Toronto.
The head of Québecor Inc. and its media entities was a Canadian nationalist that day. But it appears that, deep in his heart, he was the same Quebec separatist who launched his political career next to Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois on Sunday.
“I’ve always been a sovereigntist and I will remain one,” the 52-year-old rookie politician told reporters on Monday. “But business is business.”
After a long string of denials that he was considering switching to politics, Mr. Péladeau’s entry into the Quebec election campaign has jolted the race for the April 7 ballot, giving much-needed economic credentials to Ms. Marois’ team. Still, Mr. Péladeau’s main impact would come in the next political battle if the PQ wins a majority and launches a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
No one knows how he will perform as a politician, and whether he could persuade Quebeckers, as well as world markets, of an independent Quebec’s economic feasibility. Still, his business experience gives a clear sense of his eventual political career. The man widely known by his initials – PKP – can be ruthless and scrappy, but he also knows how to adapt.
His father, the late Pierre Péladeau, built an empire of printing plants and newspapers. After he became chief executive at Québecor in 1999, Pierre Karl Péladeau changed the firm’s focus to cable, television, Internet and mobile phones. Not all of his decisions succeeded – the printing business went under on his watch – but the revamped company has overall revenues of more than $4-billion a year, and is positioned for further growth in the Canadian market.
“He rebuilt the firm that he inherited from his father, he changed it from A to Z,” said Michel Nadeau, a former senior official at the province’s public pension fund manager, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which invested billions in Québecor’s transformation. “Pierre Karl made a strategic choice at the right time, while rivals like The Toronto Star failed to accomplish the same.”
The PQ is hoping its star recruit can help the party rebrand itself from a left-wing to a more centrist formation, with supporters far apart on the political spectrum united in a cause. Mr. Péladeau said in his first speech as a PQ candidate in the riding of St-Jérôme that his main goal was “to make Quebec a country.” Then he punched his fist in the air.
Despite being a long-time foe of unions, Mr. Péladeau has even managed to win plaudits from some left-wing sovereigntists who share his vision of an independent Quebec.
“Sovereignty is neither on the right or the left, but straight ahead,” Gilles Duceppe, a former union negotiator and leader of the federal Bloc Québécois, wrote on Twitter. “Congratulations to Pierre Karl Péladeau on his decision.”
Mr. Péladeau brings an entrepreneurial bent to the PQ, but also a sense that government intervention is necessary to protect the Quebec economy. In television and radio interviews after his announcement, he said the Quebec government needs more levers to help the economy grow and keep companies headquartered in the province. His acquisition of Vidéotron with the help of the Caisse and his lobbying for government dollars to build a hockey amphitheatre in Quebec City appear to have been precursors of his pro-business agenda.
However, Mr. Péladeau has been confronted since his announcement with the contradiction between his sovereigntist vision and the overall message of Sun News, whose commentators frequently engage in so-called “Quebec bashing.” Mr. Péladeau said his role in creating the right-wing television network, modelled on U.S.-based Fox News, was a business decision.
“We thought that the Sun News format was one that had not been exploited in the television market in Canada,” he said.
Mr. Péladeau, whose father was for many years Quebec’s best-known nationalist businessman, said his sovereigntist leanings go back to his youth. He was born in 1961, and his first opportunity to vote was in the 1980 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, when he checked the “Yes” box for a losing cause. On Monday, he complained about the “No” camp’s tactics in the 1995 referendum.
“It was stolen, pure and simple,” Mr. Péladeau said in a Radio-Canada interview, making a reference to federal efforts to strengthen Quebec’s ties with the rest of Canada before the vote.
Mr. Péladeau began the transition to active politics when he started scaling back his responsibilities at Québecor last year. He offered his services to Ms. Marois, who appointed him as chairman of Hydro-Québec.
“We were not friends, but I got to know him along the way,” Ms. Marois said. “The idea started growing in my head that he could be a candidate for the Parti Québécois, knowing that he was a sovereigntist.”
Rumours he was about to make a foray into politics started growing in the fall, but Mr. Péladeau denied them until the end of February. He said he made his final decision only a week ago, after discussions with the mother of his three children.
While he is accustomed to controversy in the business sector, Mr. Péladeau has received a particularly rough welcome to politics. He initially said he would never sell his controlling stake in Québecor, calling the firm a “jewel” of the province’s economy. He has since said he will abide by the decision of the province’s ethics watchdog, vowing his change of careers is permanent.
“From now on, I will dedicate my life to politics,” Mr. Péladeau said.