Anyone else wondering how federal Industry Minister James Moore must be feeling now that it turns out that Ottawa has tied the success of its much-vaunted national wireless strategy to a company controlled by an avowed Quebec separatist?
Just last month, Mr. Moore was effusive in his praise for Quebecor Inc., after the company's wireless unit forked out $233-million at auction to acquire prime blocks of wireless spectrum in southern and eastern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as well as an expanded presence in its core Quebec market.
Ottawa has long sought to boost competition in the $20-billion cellular market without opening the doors wide to foreign entrants. And Quebecor's Vidéotron looked like the ideal choice to pursue this goal, thanks to its eagerness to branch out beyond its already thriving Quebec base.
Here at last was the fourth national wireless carrier the government has been desperately seeking to challenge the hegemony of the entrenched threesome of BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications Inc. It would enhance the Conservative Party's sales pitch as the consumer's pal and couldn't hurt its faltering popularity with Quebec voters either.
Never mind the fact analysts have argued that even larger markets like Germany have trouble supporting more than three main carriers, and that if Canada could do so, it would have already happened.
"The outcome of the auction supports more choice for Canadians by enabling a fourth wireless player in every region of the country," Mr. Moore crowed. "There are those who doubted whether or not this would be realized in this auction. Those doubters have now been silenced."
Then came the bombshell announcement Sunday that Pierre-Karl Péladeau, controlling shareholder of the Quebecor empire, will run for the Parti Québécois in the April 7 provincial election. And unlike some other candidates, he made it clear that his goal is nothing less than independence.
"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 the party faithful in his chosen riding of St-Jérôme, north of Montreal.
Before taking the plunge, Mr. Péladeau, who stepped down from active Quebecor management last year, dutifully resigned as chairman of Hydro-Québec, as well as from the boards of Quebecor, Quebecor Media and TVA Group.
But that won't make it easier for Ottawa when – not if – Quebecor comes looking for concessions in exchange for taking on the telecom heavyweights. These are likely to include secure roaming rights on the extensive networks of the Big Three as well as low fixed costs for use of their towers.
Mr. Péladeau is easily the biggest business name ever corralled by the PQ. But his conversion to the cause was not universally applauded in a party where the dominant political strain has always tilted left of centre and well away from big business. Organized labour, which has fought bitter battles with the Quebecor media empire over the years, is one group that won't be helping him get out the vote. The Quebec Federation of Labour said in a statement that he "is probably one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known. In terms of labour relations, Péladeau has been a catastrophe for workers."
Which points to another problem with the candidacies of high-profile business figures who aren't used to the harsh glare of the election spotlight. These type-A personalities are rarely capable of translating their business acumen or boardroom clout into winning political campaigns, especially if their public record presents juicy targets for no-holds-barred opponents. And they often bring along plenty of baggage. So even if the PQ manages to secure its coveted majority in the next election, there is no guarantee Mr. Péladeau will morph into the next Michael Bloomberg.
That won't be enough, though, to wipe the egg off Mr. Moore's face.