Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Candidacy of media baron catalyzes debate on Quebec secession

By Benjamin Shingler  /  AP, MONTREAL

He is one of Canada’s most powerful media barons, with an empire that spans newspapers, cable TV and cellphone services.

Now, Quebecor Media owner Pierre Karl Peladeau has become a key figure in the movement to make the French-speaking province an independent country.

Peladeau’s stunning decision to run as a candidate for the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) in the province’s legislative election on April 7 has fuelled talk of another referendum on secession — if the party wins the required majority of seats.

Peladeau’s candidacy, declared on March 9, has pushed Quebec independence to the forefront of the campaign after Parti Quebecois leader and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois initially avoided the issue when she dissolved the legislature and called the election on March 5.

His entrance has sparked debate everywhere from hockey locker rooms to radio talk shows.

The Canadian weekly magazine Maclean’s asked on its latest cover: “Is this the man who will break up Canada?”

Fueled by her new star candidate, Marois has openly mused about the details of an independent Quebec — such as whether to retain the Canadian dollar or keep the borders open.

Quebec, with a population of 8.1 million, has had referendums on secession twice before — most recently in 1995, when the pro-independence side lost by a razor-thin margin.

It remains to be seen whether the 52-year-old Peladeau, viewed by many as Marois’ potential successor, will help or hinder Quebec’s appetite for another referendum on the issue.

Polls show support for the independence of Quebec remains stuck at about 40 percent and has not changed significantly in 10 years. Quebec, where 80 percent of the population are French-speaking, has plenty of independence already. It sets its own income tax, has its own immigration policy favoring French speakers, bases its legal code on France’s and has legislation favoring the use of French over English.

However, many Quebecois have long dreamed of an independent Quebec, as they at times have not felt respected and have worried about the survival of their language in English-speaking North America.

They thrilled to then-French president Charles de Gaulle and his cry of “Vive le Quebec libre” — long live free Quebec, during his visit in 1967.

Peladeau was previously considered one of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s closest allies in the business community in Quebec. He also founded Sun News, a populist, right-wing news channel sometimes likened to a “Fox News North.”

However, Peladeau removed any doubt about his political beliefs last week, declaring himself a candidate committed to sovereignty and intending to “make Quebec a country.”

One political analyst said Peladeau’s candidacy has allowed the party to tie together two key issues: The economy and the ultimate goal of independence.

“Mr Peladeau coming into the race was probably on the part of the PQ a way of twinning both those things by saying: ‘Here is someone who believes in sovereignty, but also has economic credentials,’” said Antonia Maioni, a professor of political science at McGill University.

However, his focus on sovereignty has given ammunition to Quebec Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard, a staunch defender of Canadian unity, who warned recently that “Mr Peladeau wants to destroy Canada.”

Campbell Clark, the Globe and Mail’s chief political writer, wrote that Peladeau has got people talking about sovereignty, and that was not really the plan.

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