Pierre Karl Péladeau, a Parti Québécois MNA who is also the controlling shareholder of Quebecor Inc., is in a peculiar position. When he became a candidate in the Quebec provincial election of April 7, he had every reason to expect three things: that the PQ would win the election, that he would end up in cabinet – and have a good shot at becoming party leader and premier.
Mr. Péladeau is one of the province's richest men, and he controls 72 per cent of the voting shares of Quebecor. In addition to being one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies, Quebecor also controls much of the province's media, including the TVA television network and newspapers such as Le Journal de Montréal. It also owns the English-language Sun chain of newspapers, and TV's Sun News Network. And before he came out as a sovereigntist politician, the federal government appeared to be encouraging a subsidiary of Quebecor, Vidéotron, to take the lead in forming a fourth national wireless carrier.
All of which adds up to the potential for an unprecedented conflict of interest, due to the size and nature of Mr. Péladeau's business interests. When he declared his candidacy, Quebecor announced that his shares would eventually be placed in a blind trust. Which was only logical; under Quebec's Code of Ethics, that's what cabinet members must do. But he himself did not make such a commitment.
As it turned out, the PQ lost the election. Mr. Péladeau isn't in government. But he did win his seat in the National Assembly, and he is a member of the PQ's shadow cabinet; the economy is a major part of his shadow portfolio. He may one day end up leader of his party, and leader of the opposition.
Canadian and Quebec politics have never seen anything like this. It's a potential conflict of interest of enormous proportions, on two levels. As a member of the government, or even as an opposition MNA, Mr. Péladeau has the power to shape laws, regulations and policies that have an impact on the value of his businesses. And as a politician controlling a huge share of the media market, he has an unprecedented ability to influence public opinion in his favour.
In 1993, Paul Martin put his interest in Canada Steamship Lines into a blind trust, before he became the federal minister of finance. That's the bare minimum that can be expected of Mr. Péladeau. He should follow Mr. Martin's example, sooner rather than later.