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Post-politics Péladeau can’t pick up where he left off at ‎Quebecor

Pierre Karl Peladeau, shown May 8, 2013, is chairman of the board of Quebecor Media and TVA Group and chairman of Hydro-Québec.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

From his fateful 2014 fist pump for Quebec independence to his teary departure as Parti Québécois leader two years later, Pierre Karl Péladeau proved to be a uniquely ungifted politician. It's no surprise that, at only 55, he would seek a return to the one job he can't be fired from.

Slipping back into the guise of Quebecor chief executive should be a far easier transition for Mr. Péladeau to make than his improbable move to politics. But neither he nor the company he left in 2013 are quite the same now, so it's not like he can simply pick up where he left off.

Can Péladeau 2.0, now an outspoken Quebec separatist, ever again enjoy the full trust of Quebecor's chairman, Brian Mulroney, a former prime minister of Canada? Can shareholders count on Péladeau 2.0 to avoid entangling Quebecor in potentially distracting and damaging political debates?

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Related: Pierre Karl Péladeau returning as Quebecor's CEO

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Does this Péladeau have the laser focus needed as Quebecor fights to salvage its fast-sinking media properties and defend its cable and wireless turf against its Big Three telecom rivals?

Only Mr. Péladeau knows for sure if he's returning to his old job for the right reasons. But he already appears to have identified his first mission: saving Quebecor's media empire.

In a Tuesday post on his Facebook page, Mr. Péladeau offered a long defence of his previous battles with Quebecor's unions, including the record-long lockout at Le Journal de Montréal that ended with most unionized employees leaving the paper. He cited Montesquieu and the imperatives of management, but mostly he blamed the short-sightedness of the unions.

"It was out of the question for me to be the gravedigger of the daily newspaper my father founded and which is at the origin of Quebecor's success," Mr. Péladeau wrote in French. "A leader can't forgo taking the right decisions even when they are sometimes difficult."

Writing as if he had already re-taken the reins at Quebecor, Mr. Péladeau added: "Never would we tolerate the escalation of salaries that we've seen for certain management teams at networks and newspapers in difficulty. … Never would we tolerate the support given to major groups, who, in order to maintain their influence on political parties and politicians, lose tens of millions of dollars a year on their media activities."

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The first barb appears directed mainly at the management team at Postmedia, which oversaw the purchase of Quebecor's Sun tabloids and recently won large retention bonuses in spite of the company's catastrophic financials. The second one no doubt refers to the Desmarais family, which owns Montreal's La Presse, and former federal Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, whose group bought the family's six other dailies and is seeking state aid to keep them going.

Hence, it's not hard to identify where Mr. Péladeau's current passion lies. He aims to save the only media empire in Quebec able to counter the perceived federalist and Liberal leanings of the Desmarais/Cauchon papers and Radio-Canada, the CBC's French-language pendant. How much money are he and Quebecor's shareholders prepared to lose to do that?

Quebecor Media slashed 220 jobs in November amid ever-declining ad revenues. The TVA network still dominates the ratings in Quebec, but those bragging rights no longer produce the profits they once did. TVA is in rough shape. Speciality channel TVA Sports has been a constant drag on results and desperately needs the Canadiens to have a long post-season run. Its ultimate survival depends on Quebecor winning an National Hockey League franchise in Quebec City. It's unclear whether Mr. Péladeau's return to the CEO's job helps or hinders that cause.

Meanwhile, Bell, Rogers and Telus aren't making life any easier for Quebecor's Vidéotron cable and wireless unit. Bell's superfast Fibe Internet and TV service is being rolled out and aggressively promoted in Quebec. Competitive pressures will intensify as Quebeckers pick up the cord-cutting habit. Though Netflix subscriptions have been lower in Quebec than elsewhere in the country, it's only a matter of time before that changes.

For now, the current management team at Vidéotron appears to enjoy Mr. Péladeau's confidence. But if his return to the top job confirms anything, it is that there is a glass ceiling at Quebecor for anyone whose initials aren't PKP.

The PKP who is returning to the St-Jacques St. head office, however, is no longer the same man who surrendered his official titles in 2013. He is now scarred by politics and a bitter divorce. Quebecor's shareholders can only hope Péladeau 2.0 puts profits before politics.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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