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Media magnate Peladeau evasive about potential return to politics

Last Updated Jan 23, 2018 at 5:40 pm EST

Quebecor President and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau speaks at the company's annual general meeting in Montreal, Thursday, May 11, 2017. Quebec telecom and media magnate Pierre Karl Peladeau is remaining coy about a potential return to politics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – Quebec telecom and media magnate Pierre Karl Peladeau renewed speculation Tuesday he is considering a return to politics.

His abrupt departure in May 2016 as head of the Parti Quebecois was against his will and due to family reasons, he told Radio-Canada.

But things have changed since then, he suggested.

“Obviously I remain ready for the (political) moment,” Peladeau said, unprompted, to the radio host during a wide-ranging interview. “Maybe, eventually you would have asked me about that.”

Anyone following the social media posts of the self-avowed nationalist who wanted to be leader of an independent Quebec will not be surprised he is not closing the door to an eventual political comeback.

As head of Quebecor Inc., Peladeau owns some of the most popular media and telecom properties in the country and the businessman isn’t shy about using his influence and profile to publicly criticize his opponents.

He has come out strongly against the Quebec Liberal’s investment in aerospace giant Bombardier, as well as the government’s recent multimillion-dollar aid package to newspaper companies in competition with his own.

Peladeau has also attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the federal government’s refusal to levy a tax on online streaming giant Netflix.

“When I think we are going in the wrong direction, when we as a collective are going in the wrong direction … it’s the reason why I speak out and there is no one who will stop me,” he said Tuesday.

Peladeau’s remarks were in response to a recent column in Montreal La Presse, a major news outlet owned by Power Corp. of Canada and controlled by a powerful Quebec family he’s openly feuded with for years.

In the column, Yves Boisvert suggested Peladeau is the de facto leader of Quebec’s opposition, due to the media mogul’s constant and aggressive public sorties on social media.

“For the time being, he is the CEO of a very large communications company and should show a little better that he understands the difference between his old job as a politician, even if he is bored, and his new job, even if it is only temporary,” Boisvert wrote.

Peladeau countered: “Who is he to tell me what I can say?”

Despite the businessman’s public statements, the speculation around his potential return to politics is being fed by the slow decline in popularity of the PQ.

The party has been polling in third place for months as it loses support among critical francophone voters and in the outlying regions where it has been historically strong.

“We have a leader right now and it’s Jean-Francois Lisee,” Peladeau said, conspicuously using the term “we,” while reminding the radio host he is still a member of the party. “I have always been attentive to collegiality … I would like to leave my colleagues continue their political work.”

Lisee was asked later in the day about Peladeau’s comments and said, “the door is wide open.”

Peladeau, he added, would be welcome to run for the PQ in the Oct. 1 election.

When asked if a potential return would threaten his leadership, Lisee responded, “we need to have a strong team. I am a leader who wants to be surrounded by strong team members who have ambition.”

Bernard Drainville, a former PQ cabinet minister close to Peladeau and who recently joined his television network, said, “according to his entourage, Peladeau misses politics.”

Drainville made the comments on a popular news commentary show on Peladeau’s flagship news network, LCN.

“But will Peladeau lead a putsch to remove Lisee? The answer is no.”

And as for his family situation, Peladeau suggested it is improving.

When he quit the PQ in May 2016 after about a year at the helm, he cited family reasons amid his separation from his partner at the time.

Peladeau said he was watching TV recently with his nine-year-old daughter, when she told him she wanted him to run for office again.

“We now have shared custody, as decided by a court,” Peladeau said. “I’m not sure if I will follow (my daughter’s) advice, but just to put things into context, things evolve.”

Companies in this story: (TSX:QBR.B, TSX:POW)