When the worst ice storm in modern history hit Quebec in 1998, Steve Flanagan became the most popular guy in the province. Hydro-Quebec's public-relations man was a reassuring and comforting presence in a depressingly frozen world.
Mr. Flanagan went on to launch his own crisis-management and communications-strategy firm. And last week, he landed his highest-profile client yet: Pierre Karl Péladeau. The road to the Parti Québécois leadership has proven steeper than expected for the former Quebecor CEO – along with the transition from media mogul to politician.
Not so long ago, Mr. Péladeau was in a position where everyone in the boardroom said, "Yes, boss." They found his jokes funny and his ideas brilliant. Now, he's a moving target in a hostile environment, under attack even within his own party. Given his famous temper, some advice could prove useful.
After his faux pas on immigration, in which he said immigrants were costing the sovereignty movement "a riding a year," and some social media ranting about journalistic "harassment" (such as a reporter's call to his cellphone at 5 p.m.), Mr. Péladeau's latest dust-up is with Claude Bisson, the respected jurisconsult for Quebec's National Assembly.
In Mr. Bisson's role, he acts as a legal adviser, providing confidential opinions for MNAs or general opinions on ethical issues. Although he is sometimes interviewed by reporters, he is little known to the general public. But Mr. Bisson is a pillar of the legal community. After 27 years as a judge, he retired in 1996 as chief justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal. He is soft-spoken and affable, universally praised for his fairness and good judgment. After retiring as a judge, he was appointed by Ottawa as commissioner of the highly sensitive Communications Security Establishment Canada; the same day, a PQ-dominated National Assembly appointed him as jurisconsult.
Last year, Mr. Bisson told La Presse that owning a media empire is not like owning "a pea canning plant" – someone aspiring to lead a political party, let alone become premier, should put his assets in a blind trust. Mr. Péladeau agreed, but with a caveat: that the trustee should be prevented from selling his shares in the company he inherited from his late father, allowing him to transfer the shares to his children one day. Well, then it's not a blind trust, said Mr. Bisson, stating the obvious.
Mr. Péladeau now says Mr. Bisson, 83, is in a "conflict of interest" and his opinion should be disregarded.
Why? Because his son, Alain Bisson, was a journalist at Quebecor's Journal de Montréal. In 2010, during a lockout, he was convicted for contempt of court along with some colleagues for having violated a picketing restriction. He was fired – and then hired by La Presse.
In other words, according to the aspiring PQ leader, the venerable Mr. Bisson's opinion is tainted by his son's conflict with Mr. Péladeau's newspaper.
The thing is, Mr. Bisson issued the exact same opinion about blind trusts in 2009. But with Mr. Péladeau, it has to be personal. If you get in his way, you must have an obscure motivation.
Politicians complaining about journalists is nothing new, but such mean, public attacks are unheard of from a candidate aspiring to Quebec's highest office. Not to interfere with Mr. Péladeau's new crisis manager, but perhaps his client should try and take the high road.