Political reactionn was mixed to the appointment of media mogul Pierre-Karl Péladeau as chairman of the board of Hydro-Québec.
The strongest criticism came from Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir who called the appointment “deplorable” arguing that it will only fuel the public’s cynicism towards governments and the “cronyism” between the political and business elites.
Mr. Khadir condemned the “proximity” between the Parti Québécois government and the business community, which he contends many Quebeckers called into question during the scandal involving the former Liberal regime over allegations of illegal party funding by engineering firms and construction companies.
“We have a situation where the government is appointing as chairman of one of its most important Crown corporations the head of a media empire which is supposed to act as a counterbalance in society,” Mr. Khadir said. “What assurance will people like me have that what we say will be reported without any outside interference, without any restrictions.”
Mr. Kadir also noted that when Mr. Péladeau was president of Quebecor Media Inc., which controls several newspapers, a major television network, a cable company and other important media assets, he sought financial assistance from government agencies to expand his empire and keep his companies afloat.
“What competence does he have to run an energy company like Hydro-Québec?” Mr. Khadir asked, adding that Mr. Péladeau’s business pedigree includes several labour conflicts with unionized employees in his companies.
“Over the last 16 years his companies were involved in 14 lock-outs of its employees, the longest one lasting more than two years involving journalists at the Journal de Montréal,” said Mr. Khadir. “I hope he won’t import this type of business model to Hydro-Québec….He is a very bad manager because he is very conflictual.”
The Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault had nothing but praise for the PQ government’s decision. Mr. Legault insisted that Mr. Péladeau will breathe new life into the Crown corporation, adding that it had been marked by serious inefficiencies and questionable management practices over the past few years.
“I think we need at Hydro-Québec somebody with experience in the business area, somebody who will make efficiency gains…and reduce expenses by something like $600-million. It won’t be easy but we need somebody with torque and I think Mr. Péladeau has proven in the past that he can do this kind of a job,” Mr. Legault said.
The CAQ leader argued that one of the first tasks the new chairman of the board will have to undertake is to review the mandate of Hydro-Québec’s chief executive office Thierry Vandal. Mr. Legault said Mr. Vandal was responsible for several costly decisions including the “$1-billion blunder” that went into refurbishing the Gentilly II nuclear power plant, which was later scrapped by the PQ government.
Earlier Wednesday, Premier Pauline Marois rejected charges that Mr. Péladeau’s appointment may be viewed as a conflict of interest because of his vast holdings in Quebec media organizations. She argued that Mr. Péladeau’s business skills were a perfect match for the role the Crown corporation will be called upon to play in helping boost economic development in the province.
“Mr. Péladeau is a well-known business leader and will play an important role at Hydro-Québec. That’s because I want Hydro-Québec to continue to contribute to the economic development of Quebec and the industrial policy of Quebec,” Ms. Marois said.