For Pierre Karl Péladeau, old work habits die hard.
Just a month after stepping down as chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc. to spend more time with his family, the media mogul is joining Hydro-Québec’s board of directors as its new chair.
Mr. Péladeau volunteered for the job, and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois offered him the position without interviewing any other candidates.
“Mr. Péladeau approached me to tell me that he wanted to serve [Quebec],” Ms. Marois said as she left a cabinet meeting Wednesday morning.
“Mr. Péladeau is a well-known business leader and he will play an important role at Hydro-Québec,” she added.
The vice-chairman of Quebecor Inc., and the chairman of its affiliate, Quebecor Media Inc., is relinquishing the $125,000 compensation that comes with overseeing the power producer. The 51-year-old executive starts his new job on May 15.
Mr. Péladeau’s interest in Hydro-Québec is surprising given he left Quebecor’s day-to-day operations to devote more time to his young family and charitable activities.
With $12.2-billion in sales and $860-million in profit in 2012, Hydro-Québec is a commercially run company that returns three-quarters of its profits to the government. In his fall budget, Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau asked the electricity producer to reduce its 21,600-employee work force by 2,000 positions to increase Hydro-Québec’s profits by $225-million.
Quebecor “welcomes” Mr. Péladeau’s nomination at Hydro-Québec, said its vice-president for public affairs, Martin Tremblay. “Mr. Péladeau is choosing to devote a part of his professional life to public service. He has the economic success of Quebec at heart,” Mr. Tremblay said. Mr. Péladeau did not make himself available for comment.
When new governments get elected, they customarily renew the boards of the state-owned enterprises through what are considered political appointments. Mr. Péladeau replaces Michael Turcotte, a former Royal Bank of Canada executive who had been nominated by former Premier Jean Charest in 2005.
Mr. Péladeau’s partner, television producer Julie Snyder, supported Ms. Marois at a political rally during the last campaign. During that same campaign, Maka Kotto, now the Minister of Culture and Communications, criticized the proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. by Bell, a potential transaction that was vehemently denounced by Mr. Péladeau.
Political reaction in Quebec was mixed. Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir denounced the “deplorable” nomination as “cronyism.” He questioned Mr. Péladeau’s qualifications to run Hydro-Québec and he criticized his track record in labour relations. He also fears that Quebecor Media journalists won’t be able to report without any interference on Hydro-Québec, one of the most important state-owned corporations in the province.
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault praised the government’s decision. He believes Mr. Péladeau will breathe new life into Hydro-Québec, the management practices of which Mr. Legault has criticized in the past.
“We need someone at Hydro-Québec with experience in business, somebody who will make efficiency gains. … 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.”