It's unclear whether Pierre Karl Péladeau realized how big of an impact his move into sovereigntist politics would have on Quebecor's future business prospects. But Brian Mulroney sure did. The former prime minister's move into the chairman's seat at the media conglomerate is implicitly aimed at repairing the damage Mr. Péladeau's infamous fist pump did to the company's brand.
Even at 75, Mr. Mulroney still has among the most acute political tentacles in the country. And he knew instantly that Mr. Péladeau's declaration of support for Quebec independence would alienate decision makers in Ottawa – bad news for a company that needs to grow beyond its shrinking Quebec base.
If it wants to influence wireless and broadcasting policy – to become a national player in the cellphone business and save its Sun News network from oblivion – Quebecor must win over politicians and policy makers in the federal capital. That's not easy when your controlling shareholder wants to break up the country.
In theory, Mr. Péladeau's political views shouldn't matter. But of course they do. The Harper government already lost face after crafting auction rules that facilitated Quebecor's acquisition of wireless spectrum in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia earlier this year. No one in Ottawa wants to be seen favouring Quebecor now.
The wireless auction took place just before Mr. Péladeau's coming out in March as a Parti Québécois candidate. He won his seat in the April 7 Quebec election. And though his party was decimated, he appears committed to his new profession and remains the most likely person to lead the PQ.
If Mr. Mulroney is stepping up to the chairman's job – apparently at Mr. Péladeau's behest – it is in part to put a friendlier federalist face on the company. It's also because no one in Canada has a bigger rolodex than the former PM. He remains a consummate rainmaker. And a company with little bench strength outside French Canada desperately needs someone with Mr. Mulroney's connections.
Those connections proved critical in enabling Quebecor to win a slice of rival Rogers Communications' recent blockbuster deal for the broadcasting rights to Hockey Night in Canada. And if Quebecor has any hope of bringing an NHL franchise to Quebec City, it likely lies with Mr. Mulroney.
Quebecor also needs to develop a more robust pan-Canadian business strategy at a time when its traditional Quebec cash cows are running up against the limits of operating in a declining market. Its Quebec TV network and newspaper assets, in particular, face dim prospects in their home province.
If it can persuade customers and policymakers that Mr. Mulroney, CEO Pierre Dion and deputy chairman Pierre Laurin are really running the show – and that M. Péladeau has truly ceded his influence over the company's operations – Quebecor stands a better chance of returning to business as usual in Ottawa.
That remains a big if. Mr. Péladeau still controls a voting stake of almost 80 per cent in the company. And he has a history as a micromanager. It will take uncommon self-restraint on his part to butt out. But his company's future may depend on it.