“Clearly, I am a sovereigntist.”

When one of Quebec’s most powerful businessmen announced that he will run for the Parti Quebecois in next month’s provincial election, he wanted to make his motivation clear.

He wants his children to grow up in Quebec, the country.

When former Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau announced his candidacy Sunday, the news got more attention from the national media than might typically be expected for a candidate announcement in a provincial election.

But Peladeau is not an average candidate. He’s a multi-millionaire owner of a media empire, and he’s just declared himself to be a sovereigntist.

He also gives the PQ government more credibility on the economy, the issue likely to be leader Pauline Marois’ Achilles heel during the campaign. She pulled the plug on her minority government before she could introduce what was expected to be a bad-news spring budget.

While Peladeau’s candidacy is considered a coup for Marois, it will be impossible to gauge exactly what impact he will have on Quebec politics, and the province’s very future, until after voters cast their ballots on April 7. In the meantime, let’s catch up on who Peladeau is, why he has decided to try his hand at politics, and the impact of his candidacy.

Who is ‘PKP’?

Peladeau, 52, inherited Quebecor from his father, Pierre, who spent 30 years building the company into a media and printing conglomerate. Pierre died on Christmas Eve, 1997. By then, Quebecor was not just a major media publisher, but also the largest commercial printer in Canada and second-largest in the United States.

The younger Peladeau expanded the company’s reach into the cable television and cellphone businesses. He grew its media holdings by acquiring Sun Media Corp., the largest publisher of newspapers in Canada, as well as TVA, North America’s largest private French-language broadcaster. Peladeau oversaw the creation of the right-leaning television network Sun News.

Other Quebecor holdings include:

  • Videotron, Canada’s third-largest cable provider.
  • Canoe, Inc., the popular network of English- and French-language internet portals.
  • Archambault, eastern Canada’s largest music store chain.

The company also owns a video-game development studio and a consulting agency.

For many years, Peladeau was one-half of one of Quebec’s most powerful couples. Until earlier this year, his spouse was television presenter and producer Julie Snyder.

“The Brangelina of Quebec,” as McGill University political scientist Antonia Maioni calls them.

And another reason for his popularity? Peladeau has spent years trying to bring NHL hockey back to Quebec City.

Peladeau is running in the swing north-Montreal riding of St-Jerome. The Coalition Avenir Quebec took the riding from the PQ in 2012.

Conflict of interest?

Peladeau stepped down from his management roles at Quebecor a year ago, but he and his family are still the company’s largest shareholders. The Peladeau family controlled 35 million of the company’s A shares, worth more than $880 million, as of one year ago. Peladeau himself has nearly 690,000 Quebecor shares, which are valued at about $17.6 million.

He earned more than $8 million in 2012, including a salary of $1.3 million.

He will not give up his shares in the company, he said at his introductory news conference, even if ordered to do so by the province’s ethic’s commissioner. He will put his holdings in a blind trust. But Marois has said that if he wins, Peladeau will have to abide by whatever directives are issued by the commissioner’s office.

Meanwhile, Peladeau’s holdings have led to questions of whether Quebecor journalists will be free to do their jobs both during and after the election. Peladeau insists that they will.

Quebec political commentator Jean Lapierre, who appears on TVA as well as on CTV, told CTV’s Power Play that he has “never got one order from anybody” in terms of his work “and I think this is going to continue that way.”

But LiberalLeader Philippe Couillard questioned what role, if any, Peladeau plays in running his media empire.

"We must ask what Mr. Peladeau's direct influence is on the editorial line, on the front page, on the treatment of information by media outlets that he controlled before the election, during the election and after the election," Couillard said.

"These questions have not had satisfactory answers."

Should the PQ win a majority government, a star candidate such as Peladeau would certainly be given a cabinet post if he wins his seat, LaPresse reporter Paul Journet told Power Play.

“So it’s possible he could be a minister and also the major shareholder of the biggest media corporation in Quebec, which leads to many ethical questions,” Journet said.

Referendum talk

The Parti Quebecois will first have to win a majority in order to call another referendum. Peladeau’s business-savvy, combined with his star power, could deliver a big boost to the sovereignty message.

“(Peladeau’s) message is that he wants Quebec to be a sovereign country, he wants to fight for sovereignty and he sees the PQ entering a part of its history in which that can happen and he wants to be a part of that,” Maioni told Power Play earlier this week.

Oneof the primary reasons that Quebecers who consider voting “yes” to separating hesitate and ultimately vote “no” is because they fear what it would mean for Quebec’s economy, Journet noted.

“But now you have a wealthy businessman saying, ‘you know what, it might be possible according to me,’ and that might have a pretty big empowering effect on the ‘yes’ camp,” Journet said.

In fact, Peladeau’s job within the PQ and during the campaign will be to “beat back those scare scenarios” about the potential economic impacts of Quebec’s independence, Maioni said.

“He’s said it already on the campaign trail that he feels that Quebec’s economic future is being hampered by staying in Canada, by not having all the levers at its disposal to make economic decisions.”

Future leader?

Could Peladeau succeed Marois as PQ leader and become the face of a rejuvenated sovereignty movement?

Indeed, strategists acknowledge that Peladeau will help broaden the party’s base. Traditionally, PQ support has come from a coalition of the left and the right, but “leaning to the left,” Journet said.

Quebec unions, long-time staunch PQ supporters, likely won’t appreciate Peladeau’s presence given his history of lockouts and other anti-union activities as a businessman. Although Peladeau “is not from the party’s left wing, social democratic side…that’s good news in terms of broadening the party’s base,” Rick Anderson of i2 Issues and Ideas Advertising told Power Play.

If the PQ wins a majority next month, a referendum could be held before the end of the year, Earnescliffe strategist Robin Sears predicts.

“Why wouldn’t they want to run against Stephen Harper?” Sears asked.

Polls show support for sovereignty in Quebec at 39 per cent. If they are correct, Anderson says, “that’s not winning conditions.

“And if there is to be a referendum and we are to treat it as conclusive, at least for a long period of time, they’ll not want to blow it by going into it at 39 per cent.”

With files from The Canadian Press