By IRWIN BLOCK
MONTREAL– For working people, Quebec’s April 7 provincial election focused sharply early in the campaign on the arrival of media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau onto the active political scene as a Parti Québecois candidate.
It was less his raised fist and pledge to work to turn Quebec into an independent country that mattered. What concerns unionized workers is his record as a bully employer who turned 14 times to the lockout bulldozer to force employees to their knees with the most extreme tactics.
The Gazette negotiating team that I was part of, bargained at the same time as the hapless Journal de Montréal union when Péladeau’s HR team sought to tear apart such union protections as last-in-first-out in any layoff context.
The lockout became a strike and it lasted 25 months!
In the province’s capital, at the Journal de Québec, Péladeau’s managers skirted around anti-scab legislation by creating a wire service to use replacement workers to feed the paper while the lockout persisted for 17 months!
If elected, and if the PQ forms a government, Péladeau will be in a strong position to push for weakening protection in the Quebec Labour Code on items he opposes, including the hard-fought compulsory union dues check-off.
He retains a controlling interest in Québecor Inc. and as such will be in a conflictual position since his journalists and managers will be loath to oppose policies he and his party support, or conduct in-depth investigations into their activities.
The same goes for the popular TVA television network, QMI news agency, the popular weeklies under Québecor control and even the Sun News Agency and TV network. He has refused to divest his majority interest in the company, claiming it is sufficient that he has put his holdings in a “blind trust.” They include Vidéotron, Canada’s third largest cable operator.
Since several journalists have told of being ordered to adopt a different approach that is more to the liking of PKP, there is a clear and present danger that a huge slice of the Quebec media will feel itself muzzled with Péladeau in power.
And if the PQ loses and leader Pauline Marois quits, he can be expected to seek the top job or become a major influence on whomever takes on that role. Certainly, the revived separation issue is not helping to spur economic growth in the province.
Québec Solidaire is presenting itself as an alternative, with a more gradual approach to an eventual referendum and stronger support for progressive social programs than any other party, but it is only a factor in two ridings on the Montreal Island, with hopes in another two or three. Support for the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec, led by former Péquiste François Legault, is collapsing, opinion surveys indicate, because of the polarization around the referendum issue that Péladeau helped revive. The only alternative to the PQ and Péladeau seeking to carve out a new career is the Quebec Liberal Party under its new leader, brain surgeon Phillipe Couillard.
The Liberals are leading in most recent polls, but are still behind among francophone voters so it could be a close race, although projections indicate a possible Liberal majority. Should that happen, the PQ can return to doing what it does well, providing opposition from a left perspective to protecting social programs. And if cast into opposition, it is not certain the ambitious Péladeau will want to cool his heels, especially if the party decides it is too soon for him to assume a leadership role.