Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Péladeau must sort leopards and spots

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Pierre Karl Péladeau, newly recruited as a candidate for the separatist Parti Québécois, is well known in Quebec as a media mogul and an extremely wealthy man. He inherited from his father, Pierre Péladeau, a highly profitable chain of tabloid newspapers focused on crime and celebrity gossip. He kept the tabloids, ditched most of the printing business and grew the company into cable TV, Internet service and wireless telephony.

The Parti Québécois, which has held power about half the time in Quebec during the last 35 years, has always been weakened by a poor grasp of market forces. It has often treated employers as political enemies. It enjoys little support among merchants and business executives. The recruitment of Mr. Péladeau offered hope the party might seek his advice, follow it, and start treating business as a legitimate, constructive element of Quebec society. His presence in a future PQ government may help reassure Quebecers who fear the party's dreams of independence must bring economic catastrophe.

But he cannot just stand there. He will have to say something. He will have to say what currency an independent Quebec will use and what basis will support it. He will have to explain how Quebec's generous social programs will continue after subsidies stop coming from Ottawa. He will have to persuade the unionists and intellectuals who dominate the PQ they have been wrong about social justice and economic development. He will have to be an adroit political leader.

The first signs on that front were not encouraging. When he announced his candidacy, Mr. Péladeau said he had stepped aside from all his administrative roles in the Quebecor media empire but that he would never sell his shares in the company, of which he holds a controlling interest. Commentators immediately started asking how the reporters and editors in his media empire could report honestly on Quebec politics while their controlling shareholder was running for office or holding office. Mr. Péladeau, who had apparently not thought of that, issued a statement late in the day saying he would follow the instructions of the Quebec legislature's ethics commissioner -- which could include selling his shares.

This showed commendable agility, but it also raised a question about the depth of his convictions and the reliability of his political instincts. He may yet prove to be the man who can make the PQ leopard change its spots, but his first day in the arena suggested he had a great deal yet to learn about leopards and spots.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2014 A8

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