Politics·Analysis

Is the PQ ready for the Pierre Karl Peladeau show?

He is one of Quebec's biggest celebrities, a media baron with a TV star spouse who is constantly in the supermarket tabloids. But can Pierre Karl Peladeau's star power rescue the Parti Quebecois? And does the PQ know what it may be getting into?

Media baron set to announce, but celebrity can be a two-edged sword

Pierre Karl Péladeau told reporters he "appreciates diversity" in Quebec. (The Canadian Press)

The minute new candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau stepped off Pauline Marois' election bus one cold Sunday last March, the speculation erupted about his ambition to become leader of the Parti Quebecois one day.

The province's most powerful media baron — renowned for his killer instinct — would not sit long on the sidelines went the thinking.

PKP, as he is known here in Quebec, was recruited for all the star power he could bring to the sovereigntist cause.

That star power turned out to be a two-edged sword last election, but seems to be propelling him into the leader's chair more quickly than even he must have anticipated, with a campaign announcement expected any day now.

Like Justin, PKP is the "son of." In his case, of a prominent businessman, Pierre Peladeau, the founder of Quebecor and an icon of the early days of "Quebec Inc." But the dynastic implications remain the same.

Peladeau's notoriety only increased after he settled down with Julie Snyder, one of Quebec's biggest TV stars and most prolific television producers.

Together, they turned Quebec into an almost unparalleled example of media convergence in North America, and he has been a regular in the pages of supermarket tabloids, many of which he owns. Occasionally, he even makes it into glossier gossip fare like Paris Match, as he did in July alongside his daughter's new godmother, Céline Dion.

Power couple Pierre Karl Peladeau and Julie Snyder arrive at a Montreal arts gala in 2012. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

Newsworthy or not, his almost every move gets covered. And it's not just because he owns almost half of Quebec's media, but because no one gets numbers quite like a celebrity.

His pull is such that in the middle of CAQ leader François Legault's live daily briefing last week, the cameras suddenly abandoned their mark, making a paparazzi-like turn towards Peladeau seen coming down the hall.

Asked yet again if he would run for the now vacant leadership, he answered yet again that he was still thinking about it.

The only tangible outcome of this coyness was the playful suggestion that Quebec's political lexicon had gained a new verb: to be Peladeaued.

Like a CEO

The current infatuation with Peladeau, though, extends well beyond the Quebec media.

Even without having formally announced his intention to run for the PQ leadership, a weekend Leger poll ranked him head and shoulders above the five other contenders, with some 59 per cent of party supporters ready to back PKP.

These numbers, which have only gone up since September, suggest even stalwarts feel he is the one to rebuild the battered party, despite his less than stellar track record so far.

For starters, he's widely seen as the man who sank the PQ's chances of winning the last election with his untimely cri de coeur about making Quebec a country.

He is also considered a deeply divisive figure for his reputation as a union-busting boss with at least 14 lockouts to his credit.

In fact, many on the PQ left have hovered between skepticism and outrage at Peladeau's inclusion in the leadership ranks, claiming he will move the party to the right at the expense of the PQ's traditional social democratic base.

As if to drive that point home, the president of Quebec's largest union, the FTQ, has suggested he may call on its 600,000 members to rally against any potential Peladeau leadership bid.

"Lockouts happen," said Daniel Boyer, "but, listen, with Mr. Peladeau, they happen repeatedly. If he's changed, maybe he should come and talk to us, but he hasn't done that yet."

Hugs and kisses

The propensity to act more like a CEO than an elected official has also been on display these last months in office, most notably in the conflict of interest controversy regarding his media holdings.

Peladeau remains the majority shareholder of Quebecor, the print business he inherited and transformed into a broadcasting, cable TV, newspaper and magazine empire that controls 40 per cent of Quebec media.

Bernard Drainville, the former minister responsible for the secular charter, is also running for the PQ leadership. He gestures as PQ members take the oath of office in April. Peladeau looks on. (The Canadian Press)

To most people in the political world, including at least one member of the PQ who called it a ticking time bomb, this magnitude of ownership presents an obvious conflict should Peladeau put himself in line to becoming premier.

After weeks of stalling, refusing even to admit there was a problem, he finally promised he would put the Quebecor shares bequeathed to him by his father, shares he wanted to leave to his children, in a blind trust should he decide to seek the PQ leadership.

At first, though, he tried to rebuff the criticism with long diatribes on his Facebook page — a "convenient communications" tool he says he discovered while convalescing from a bicycle accident last summer.

There, he also posts videos of his political interventions and family photos with his famous partner, Snyder, whom, it was recently announced, he will marry in the coming year.

In return, he receives almost unqualified admiration, breathless posts about how his opponents are "scared" of him, how only he can save the PQ, and how he and Julie are the most beautiful couple in Quebec. Some even sign off with Xs and Os.

In the more real political world, though, Peladeau is known to be backed by a team of experienced PQ advisers, consultants and strategists who as early as September reserved 16 domain names on the internet to ensure easy access to the man and his message.

And yet, he continues to be coy about his intentions, claiming to be mulling his options, reflecting. Not unreasonable for a relative novice, but unlikely.

Rather, Peladeau's candidacy has been so drawn out, so peppered with personal details, that the suspense seems forced and more like one of the reality shows that run on his network than any real political moment.

And, so far, it appears to be working wonders for him. 

About the Author

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

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