Premier Pauline Marois has been naming a lot of Parti Québécois favourites to important government jobs lately, and when they are competent, these appointments are considered acceptable patronage. It’s part of the game.
But she made a serious error in choosing media magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau as the new chairman of Hydro-Québec, the province’s most important enterprise. Most egregious is the fact that Péladeau, who resigned as CEO of Quebecor Inc. and Quebecor Media, will become vice-chair of Quebecor Inc. and chair of Quebecor Media and TVA Group. He will remain the big boss of Quebec’s most-watched TV network; the best read newspapers in Montreal and Quebec: le Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec; the QMI news agency; and a basket of popular magazines.
He remains a powerful influence on Sun Media, which publishes newspapers across Canada, and Sun TV. It is doubtful these media, who normally can be expected to perform a watchdog role, will feel at ease criticizing Hydro.
Péladeau is known as a ruthless employer who prefers such hard-line tactics as lockouts to force his way with trade unions. MNA Amir Khadir counted 14 lockouts in Péladeau enterprises in 14 years.
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Péladeau’s media tend to push an unbridled free-enterprise line, denouncing, for example, such competitors as the CBC. Yet he’s accepted tens of millions of dollars from the Caisse de dépôt in expanding Quebecor’s empire.
While some observers speculate that Péladeau, who will do the job without pay, may be priming himself to launch a political career, we believe Marois had no business helping him rebrand himself.
As a media baron he starts his new job in a potentially conflicted position.