Pierre-Karl Péladeau, controlling shareholder of the Quebecor media empire, on Sunday announced he will run for the Parti Québécois, saying his top motivation is to make Quebec independent.
"My joining the Parti Québécois is tied to my most intimate and profound values and that is to say I want Quebec to become a country," he told supporters in the riding of St-Jérôme, just north of Montreal, where he will be running in the April 7 provincial election.
Mr. Péladeau signed his party membership card on Sunday after resigning as chairman of the board of Hydro-Québec, a position he has held since April, and his seats on the boards of Quebecor, Quebecor Media and TVA Group. The media group owns dailies such as the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec, the largest private French language television network TVA, the Videotron cable TV and telecommunications company as well as the chain of Archambault stores, a major distributor of music, books and DVDs.
He says his decision has already attracted the interest of the business community. "There are several entrepreneurs who are proud of my candidacy," Mr. Péladeau said.
The PQ says he gives credibility to the party's economic platform as it seeks to attract conservative nationalist voters, who supported the more right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec in the last election.
"Pierre-Karl Péladeau sends a strong signal of commitment towards Quebec," PQ Leader Pauline Marois said on Sunday. "He joins a team of men and women who share the conviction that the future of Quebec lies in becoming a sovereign country, a country that is prosperous, that is rich."
The Quebec Federation of Labour was "stunned" by Mr. Péladeau's decision, according to a statement Sunday afternoon, adding he "is probably one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known. In terms of labour relations, Péladeau has been a catastrophe for workers."
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard at first avoided directly addressing Mr. Péladeau's potential candidacy during his lengthy daily press conference. He refused to even say Mr. Péladeau's name. "All candidates are welcome," he said. "But it's not one candidacy that will change the debate."
Later, in a slight variation on his standard stump speech, he added the Péladeau candidacy nomination "only clarifies" the choice between the Liberal economic agenda and the PQ's desire for independence. He described Mr. Péladeau's arrival as a "golden opportunity" to present Quebeckers with a stark choice, and for him to deliver "the same message" of economy over independence.
"It makes the ballot question even more clear," Mr. Couillard said. "The final masks have fallen."
Mr. Couillard has frequently made the same point in the early days of the campaign, including when Ms. Marois said she might or might not hold a referendum, and again when the PQ platform was adopted Saturday, endorsing a wait-and-see position on an independence vote. "It's clear now. If everyone who doesn't want a referendum decides this is the ballot question, we'll form a majority government like we've rarely seen in Quebec," he said. "And the PQ has now made it clear it is the ballot question."
When asked about Mr. Péladeau's credibility, Mr. Couillard would only say "he's well known."
The leader of the Québec Solidaire party, which has been eating away at the PQ's left flank for years, said Mr. Péladeau's arrival in its ranks makes it clear it is no longer a progressive party. "The PQ has made a choice," party leader Françoise David explained, "and I hope everyone in Quebec will understand. They've chosen to include in their ranks one of the most intransigent and anti-worker bosses in Quebec."
She criticized Mr. Péladeau for 14 lockouts, the use of replacement workers, and using public funds to build an arena in Quebec City, with the PQ's help. The PQ, she added, has long held alliances with the province's big unions. "What is the PQ going to do with their anti-scab law?" she asked.
Ms. David said she and QS's other member, Amir Khadir, have been approached in the past 48 hours to join PQ ranks. "I've got news for you: Never, never, never will a Solidaire member sit next to Pierre-Karl Péladeau."
If elected, Mr. Péladeau will be required by law to place his company shares in a blind trust. He said he will also distance himself from Quebecor's efforts at acquiring an NHL franchise in Quebec City, where the company was awarded the contract to manage a $400-million arena to be built with money from the province and the city.
In his efforts to attract an NHL franchise, Mr. Péladeau also forged personal ties with Quebec City's popular mayor, Régis Labeaume. His candidacy was expected to boost PQ support in crucial ridings throughout the Quebec City region.
The Quebecor media empire extends into the rest of Canada through Sun Media Group. Mr. Péladeau had built ties with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his efforts to obtain a broadcast license for the Sun TV network. The federal government chose not to comment on Mr. Péladeau's decision to embrace the PQ and Quebec sovereignty.
"We have no intention of getting involved in a provincial election," said Denis Lebel, federal Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs, and a prominent Quebec voice in the federal cabinet.
In a statement released by Françoise Bertrand, chairperson of the board of Quebecor, and its vice chairman, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the company reassured the public by stating that coverage of "the current Quebec provincial election campaign will continue to be fair and impartial towards all political parties and candidates."
Mr. Péladeau is running in the same riding as former CAQ member Jacques Duchesneau, the anti-corruption crusader who helped propel the fledgling CAQ into winning 19 seats in the last election. The PQ is likely hoping Mr. Péladeau will create a similar impact.
With reports from Josh Wingrove in Ottawa and The Canadian Press