Quebecor is drawing a clear line between itself and its controlling shareholder, Pierre Karl Péladeau, insisting the separatist Parti Québécois MNA has no say in the direction of a company that might be poised to play a major role in Ottawa’s plans for a more competitive wireless market in Canada.
Mr. Péladeau still has direct control of more than 70 per cent of the voting rights of Quebecor despite a March 9 pledge to put the assets in a blind trust “or under blind management” if he won office.
All eyes are on the Quebec media company after the Harper government tried to sweeten the incentives last week for a fourth national carrier that would buy up smaller wireless players and launch service in key markets across Canada as a solid alternative to major incumbents Bell, Rogers and Telus. Ottawa announced a surprise auction of additional public airwaves with preferential treatment for existing small players, or more importantly, whoever owns these minor companies by the time the bidding starts.
Quebecor said last month its Vidéotron unit is “ready, willing and able” to take on Canada’s Big Three national wireless providers and buy smaller firms in the process, but first wants Ottawa to further reduce the wholesale rates regional carriers pay to roam on their larger competitors’ networks.
Mr. Péladeau, meanwhile, has embarked on a political career after winning a seat in the Quebec legislature last April for the Parti Québécois, and may even be a contender to lead the party, which is now rebuilding after losing the spring provincial election.
But he still owns 72 per cent of the voting rights of Quebecor, according to the company, which means the Harper government’s plan to spur more wireless competition nationwide may depend on a company owned by a man who would rather see his province exit the Canadian federation.
The Harper government displays little enthusiasm for the subject when asked whether it has qualms about Quebecor taking a big role in Canada’s wireless market.
“We do not comment on the business plans of individual companies,” Jessica Fletcher, director of communications for federal Industry Minister James Moore, said in an e-mailed statement.
Quebecor, however, wants to make it clear Mr. Péladeau is not calling the shots right now and hasn’t since he resigned from all his positions with the company in March.
“I would say that he is a passive shareholder for the moment,” Martin Tremblay, Quebecor’s director of public affairs, said Monday. “He is not involved in any strategic nor operations decisions in the company.”
The Parti Québécois defends Mr. Péladeau’s lack of action on his blind trust pledge, suggesting that promise was only meant to apply if he had become a cabinet minister.
“Mr. Péladeau is under a set of obligations as an opposition MNA. He’s compliant with the code of ethics,” PQ spokeswoman Antonine Yaccarini said in a statement.
Dvai Ghose, head of research at Canaccord Genuity, said investors are wondering if Mr. Péladeau’s politics will be a problem for either the Harper Tories, or Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, should they win the next election.
“The market is more intrigued about the political ramifications,” he said. “The market wonders to what extent a company that is, as others correctly put it, owned by a Quebec separatist, can gain concessions from a federal government. And in particular, what happens if the Liberals win the next election. … Mr. Trudeau comes from Quebec and he and his father before him are not necessarily aligned with Pierre Karl Péladeau.”