Quebec’s April 7 provincial election focused sharply early in the campaign on the arrival of media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau onto the active political scene as a Parti Québécois candidate in St. Jérôme.
It was less his raised fist and pledge to work to turn Quebec into an independent country that mattered. What concerns unionized workers is his record as a bully employer who turned 14 times to the lockout bulldozer to force employees to their knees with the extreme tactics.
When his father, the late Pierre Péladeau, ran the Journal de Montréal, his watchwords when it came to labour relations were simple: “If the business is making money, so should my employees.” But when he inherited the reins of his father’s empire, PKP sought to destroy their livelihood.
During negotiations with the union representing 243 Journal de Montréal employees, Péladeau’s HR team sought to tear apart such basic union protections as last-in-first-out in any layoff context. The lockout became a strike and lasted 25 months.
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In the province’s capital, at the Journal de Québec, Péladeau’s managers skirted anti-scab legislation by creating a wire service to use replacement workers while the lockout persisted for 17 months.
If elected, and if the PQ forms a government, Péladeau will be in a strong position to push for weakening protection in the Quebec Labour Code on items he opposes, including the hard-fought compulsory union dues check-off.
He retains a controlling interest in Québecor Inc. His journalists and managers will be loath to oppose policies he and his party support, or conduct in-depth investigations into their activities.
The same goes for the TVA television network, QMI news agency, the popular weeklies under Québecor control and even the Sun News Agency and TV network. He has refused to divest his majority interest in the company, claiming it is sufficient that he has put his holdings in a “blind trust.” They include Vidéotron, Canada’s third-largest cable operator.
Since several journalists have told of being ordered to adopt a different approach that is more to the liking of PKP, there is a clear and present danger that a huge slice of Quebec media will feel itself muzzled with Péladeau in power. The same will hold true if he is thrust into opposition.
His arrival on the political scene as a PQ candidate coincided with the beginning of a slump in support for the party. His ruthless tactics as an employer, control of a huge chunk of media, and prospect of him using these to push Quebec into an uncertain future with a revived referendum campaign do not mesh with the desires of a majority of Quebecers.
PQ leader Pauline Marois’s pledge to push for tougher language laws and a charter of values are sufficient reason to reject the PQ.
Québec Solidaire presents itself as an alternative, with a more gradual approach to a referendum and stronger support for progressive social programs than any other party, but it is only a factor in two ridings on Montreal Island, with hopes in another two or three. Support for the François Legault’s right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec is collapsing, opinion surveys indicate, because of the polarization around the referendum issue.
The only alternative to the PQ and Péladeau is the Quebec Liberal Party under its new leader, brain surgeon Phillipe Couillard.
Couillard is an honest man with a strong team that can help steer the health-care system through cash-strapped times ahead. He deserves a chance.