QUEBEC - There are some concerns being expressed about media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau's role in Quebec politics, notably his close ties to the pro-independence Parti Quebecois government.
The province's opposition leader says he wants to know more about the political involvement of the chairman of Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B), which dominates the private multimedia landscape in the province and which owns the Sun TV and newspaper chain in English Canada.
Peladeau has been sitting in on cabinet meetings on green-transport projects in his other role — as chairman of Hydro-Quebec, to which he was appointed by Pauline Marois.
His tabloid newspaper, the Journal de Montreal, provided positive coverage in exclusive reports about the project two weeks ago.
More recently, the newspaper has offered prime real estate to a project spearheaded by Peladeau's wife, Julie Snyder, who was among several prominent feminists to organize a grassroots campaign in support of the PQ's controversial values charter.
Now a column in a competing newspaper reports that Snyder's entertainment-production office is in the suite right next to the PQ headquarters in an office building on Montreal's Papineau Street.
"With that kind of proximity it's tempting to call it the 'Parti Quebecor'," said the piece in Tuesday's Montreal La Presse. La Presse, Quebecor's competitor, belongs to the chain that is one of three owners of The Canadian Press news agency.
When asked Tuesday about Peladeau's involvement, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard demanded greater clarity on his roles in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
"I want a complete separation from the media universe and the work with the government on important aspects of public policy," Couillard told reporters.
"I served in government for just over five years. I never saw anyone beside elected people, ministers, or high-ranking civil servants, participate," said the former health minister.
"I am surprised by this."
He said he wants to see divisions between his media and government roles that are explicit, well explained, and well managed. Couillard said the government's assurances that such guidelines exist are not enough. He wants to see them.
The sentiment was echoed by the Quebec solidaire party, whose MNA Amir Khadir expressed concern that the Quebecor empire was working to promote the PQ's planned restrictions on religious headwear.
The company's interests have straddled into the political realm before.
In recent years, its Quebec media properties championed public funding for the Quebec City arena project, while they frequently criticized the project's political detractors. Quebecor has the contract to manage the eventual arena, and is trying to acquire an NHL team to play in it.
It was under a PQ government, just over a decade ago, that the Quebecor empire mushroomed. It beat out Rogers to purchase the lucrative Videotron cable network, thanks to a $3.2 billion investment from the provincial pension-fund manager.