For the PQ, the two-edged sword that is Pierre Karl Péladeau

In a remarkable and turbulent business career, Pierre Karl Peladeau has always defied convention. The PQ are clearly hoping that their new star candidate will play by their rules this time.

The media mogul is not someone used to taking orders, or following someone else's playbook

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois and new PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau wave to supporters in Saint Jerome, Que., where the media mogul is planning to run. (Canadian Press)

It's being described as a bombshell, an earthquake, a seismic shock.

The announcement that Pierre Karl Péladeau will run for the Parti Québécois set off a round of hyperbole in Quebec and Canadian media in which no piece of artillery or natural disaster was spared.

The reason is simple: Péladeau is Quebec corporate royalty, the enigmatic, princeling son of a true founder of Quebec Inc., and his star power is meant to lend legitimacy in matters of finance and economy to a party desperately in need of a boost in these realms.

In its 16 months in power, the PQ has paid lip service to the economy, only to find itself faced with two recent studies decrying the deplorable state of Quebec's public finances, and critiqued by no less a stalwart than former leader Jacques Parizeau.

As well, by dismissing last month's loss of 26,000 jobs as "normal," and by tabling another deficit budget it never intended to vote on, Premier Pauline Marois has allowed her two main opponents, the CAQ and the Quebec Liberals, to run away with the economy as the number one issue in their respective campaigns.

But no more, perhaps. Péladeau is the PQ's first salvo on this front.

Nothing less than a mogul himself, he overcame the bankruptcy of the family printing business to transform Quebecor into a cable, wireless and media conglomerate with control over Quebec's largest private television network and big-city newspapers, mostly in the Sun Media chain, that stretch right across the country.

And his arrival serves to placate a much bigger, much older concern for the sovereignty movement — the notion that independence is simply not economically viable.

Having a big business gun like Péladeau onside goes some way to arguing the contrary, even if his presence includes its own set of aftershocks.

A little bit of everything

Since his candidacy was announced on the weekend, Quebec's social media has been abuzz with Péladeau bric-a-brac, including comparisons to Italy's media mogul-politician Silvio Berlusconi and photo-shopped rebranding of the PQ as the "Parti Quebecor."

The convergence of big business and politics often generates suspicions. In this case, the PQ's embrace of Péladeau seems to have put an end to any idea that it is a progressive party.

Quebecor Media Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau at the launch of Sun TV News Channel in 2010. Will the network support Quebec independence? (Canadian Press)

Since the days of René Lévesque, the Parti Quebecois has traditionally been aligned with the union movement in Quebec. But as well as being a titan of industry, Péladeau is renowned here as union-buster.

The FTQ, Quebec's largest labour federation, has already said that Péladeau is among the worst employers in Quebec, and that his record 14 lockouts should be taken as proof that he is not an asset for the party.

Mind you, both of the province's big unions parted ways with the PQ on the charter of values as well.

And given Marois's many calculated moves of late — from the election timing to backing energy exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence — you have to wonder sometimes how the PQ has managed to maintain the perception that it is progressive for so long.

If nothing else, the PQ is starting to look a lot like the Quebec Liberal Party, or even the Coalition Avenir Quebec: like a weekend newspaper, there's a little bit of everything for everyone. Including a Pierre Karl Péladeau

An independent mind

But Péladeau is not someone you can just tuck away in a corner.

He is somebody who uses up a lot of oxygen in a room and it is in this regard that his candidacy may well become a liability.

For example, his sudden and overt dedication to sovereignty on the weekend runs counter to the way the government has been playing that card.

To date, the notion of independence/separation/another referendum is an election hot potato. Yes, the PQ is a separatist party, and independence is an intrinsic part of its platform.

But members of the present government are wily enough to know that most Quebecers aren't interested at the moment, a fact that was confirmed by a CROP poll on Monday that found 61 per cent of Quebecers do not want independence now.

So far, the PQ has tried to shy away from making sovereignty a campaign issue. Instead, Marois has moved more strategically, paving the way with the promise of a white paper to study the issue, and stating that a referendum will only be held when the time is right.

Péladeau, however, ended his speech on Sunday, fist raised high in the air, saying that he's joined the PQ to make Quebec a country.

It was one sign that having someone not used to taking orders, or even being a team player, as your star candidate may well prove to be a more troublesome factor than expected.

Meanwhile, the wave of media speculation has yet to crest. Among them, that a man of his stature doesn't enter the political fray without certain guarantees. He must have been promised a ministry, maybe finance; he could even become leader, his charisma easily overshadows Marois and the most prominent contenders, some have ventured to say.

That's an awful lot of conjecture regarding a candidate completely untested in politics. Conjecture, mind you, is something a Quebec Inc. star of Péladeau's stature has been surrounded with virtually his entire life.


Michelle Gagnon is a producer for CBC News. She covers domestic and international affairs.