Can a person completely change at the relatively ripe age of 54?
It is doubtful, but Pierre Karl Péladeau, who sailed to a rather easy victory for the leadership of the Parti Québécois, wants you to believe this. Only a few years ago, as he was ruthlessly crushing the journalists' unions at his newspapers, he was advocating the repeal of the Rand formula – a radical policy that would instantly starve labour unions – and courting the Harper government and calling for budget cuts to the CBC.
Now, Mr. Péladeau has turned into a friend of Radio-Canada and a vibrant social democrat, who pledges to keep intact the sacred "Quebec model" and the PQ's "progressive tradition." To those who remind him of his recent past, he replies that, as a businessman, he had some responsibilities that do not apply now he is in politics – as if he was not still in business, too. Mr. Péladeau promised to let a blind trust run his media empire, with the enormous caveat that the administrators must not sell his holdings. Quebecor Inc.'s chairman, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, recently admitted the company consults Mr. Péladeau "once in a while" – it has to, he said, since Mr. Péladeau is the majority shareholder. The situation opens the door to massive conflicts of interest.
Mr. Péladeau is quite evasive about how he is going to fulfill his dream of making Quebec a country, a goal he says is his only reason for entering politics (he is not interested in running a provincial government, he says). He refuses to say whether he would call a referendum on sovereignty in his first mandate if the PQ comes to power. Of course, this makes sense. Even though he is passionate and impulsive, Mr. Péladeau is not foolish enough to announce a referendum three years in advance, before knowing if the population would be open to the idea of sovereignty (which it is definitely not these days).
How can a party that always prided itself on its social-democratic program elect a leader so foreign to its ideas? Rare are the Péquistes who are convinced by Mr. Péladeau's sudden transformation into a diehard progressive, but it does not matter. Most of the party's left wing welcome him with open arms for the single reason that he represents the last chance in their long fight for sovereignty. The Péquistes have always believed fear of economic insecurity is the only obstacle on the road to sovereignty. And for them, PKP, a high-profile, successful businessman, is best suited to address fearful voters. They are ready to "shake the hand of the devil" to see independence in their lifetime. In any case, only a very large coalition of the right and the left could win a vote for independence, and once this is done, the left-wing Péquistes would tell you, "We'll go back to our usual voting patterns."
Actually, the reputation of Mr. Péladeau as a successful businessman might be a bit overblown. Far from being a self-made man, he inherited his wealth from his father. On his watch, Quebecor World, a multinational printing business that once employed 160,000 people, went into bankruptcy protection, and Mr. Péladeau sold his media properties in English Canada for a fifth of what he had paid for them nine years earlier. And his most profitable asset, Vidéotron's cable company, was bought thanks to the financial help of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the province's public pension fund. Will PKP be luckier in politics? The bets are open.