It is to laugh. But it’s not a surprise.
I think pretty much everyone who ever worked for Pierre Karl Péladeau — PKP as he is/was generally known — understood he was probably a Quebec sovereigntist at heart. Suspected it, anyway.
For me there was never any question: I heard him espouse a separatist perspective on several occasions. There was no attempt on his part to hide or moderate his beliefs. But then I don’t think he gave a rat’s aspect what my political beliefs were or what I said or wrote — as long as I made money for him. And I know he didn’t care what I thought of him or his beliefs — as long as I made money for him.
His excursions into the world of English-language Canadian media were about the same as Roy Thomson’s and Conrad Black’s acquisitions of media properties in Britain: It didn’t change their stripes or perspective (although both Lord Thomson and Lord Black enjoyed their duly acquired red robes and Connie even wantonly discarded his Canadian citizenship in a fit of pique).
I’m sure I’m violating some kind of general policy regarding PKP by even writing this, but since I haven’t set foot inside the Sun Building — oops, Coca-Cola Building — for two or three years, we’ll just stumble through this minefield as best we can using our own sense of direction.
I’m going to take my old friend Sun Media VP (editorial) Glenn Garnett at his word: “When it comes to our editorial position, it’s business as usual.”
Since I’m surprised half the stuff I write here doesn’t automatically cause a permanent rift between Sun Media and me anyway, this is just one more opportunity for the earth to open and swallow the Nosey Parker blog.
But back to PKP.
The FTQ, Quebec’s largest labour union, has called Péladeau “one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known.”
I’m sure a lot of people at Sun Media who worked for PKP over the years feel the same way (broadening the frame of reference from “Quebec” to “Canada”). He was not what one would call “a beloved boss.”
Working for a guy like Péladeau was especially hard at the Sun newspapers because a lot of us had previously worked for The Greatest Boss In The World (Ever)® — Doug Creighton. With Doug, we would willingly walk through fire in our bare feet if that’s what Doug felt had to be done. With PKP, we sometimes worried he was going to hold our bare feet to the fire — without consent or explanation. A study in contrasts, you might say.
Here’s the thing about PKP — he knew how many (most? I’m not sure) people felt about him, he openly acknowledged that he was probably hated by many of his employees … but … he … just … didn’t … care.
As I once heard PKP say when another editor asked him to show a little public appreciation for his hard-working journalists, “They get all the thanks they need every time they pick up a paycheque.” A hard man but fair.
Nah, he wasn’t fair. It was PKP’s way or the highway. And PKP’s way was often bizarrely eccentric and rarely followed traditionally accepted norms. He was a benevolent dictator — but without the benevolent part, of course.
And, as I said before, he knew all this. He knew what people thought about him and his actions … but … he … just … didn’t … care. In part, he didn’t care because he knew the old ways of doing things were dying and he figured he would rather be hoist on his own petard than someone else’s.
In some ways he was a visionary. The fact that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people were hurt by his vision was not part of the business equation for PKP. Layoffs had already happened in the Sun Media organization before Quebecor took over. The fact that PKP was not shedding crocodile tears of sham regret when he accelerated the process didn’t, in the end, make his actions any worse that all the other — later — layoffs that followed throughout the newspaper business in Canada.
If you want, you can even give him credit for being perceptive and realistic and courageous enough to bite the bullet long before other publishing CEOs did. I won’t, but you can if you want.
As Sun Media VP (editorial) Glenn Garnett said yesterday: “It’s difficult for some people to understand that I don’t have a hotline on my desk from head office over which PKP or other senior executives call to dictate tomorrow’s editorial position on the news of the day.”
Now I’ve known Glenn for a long time and I can tell you that, to the best of my recollection, I’ve never known him to lie. He’s kept his mouth clamped shut a lot of times but never knowingly lied. So you can believe Glenn when he tells you there were no hotline orders on editorial positions.
Why would there be? Pierre Karl Péladeau the separatist knew exactly what Sun Media was — a gung-ho, populist, flag-waving, right-wing, Don-Cherry-loving, separatist-hating Gibraltar of Canadiana — when he bought the chain. He was buying a business, not a political soulmate or an object of personal affection.
So there’s been no great shock or seismic shift (to me, anyway) in Péladeau’s decision to run as a Parti Quebecois candidate in the upcoming Quebec election. From an economic perspective, he might be more compatible as a Conservative candidate — but that’s another matter.
Well, no, it really isn’t.
I think the one who’s going to end up being most shocked and surprised in this whole affair will be Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. She knows she has a star PQ candidate (and possible — probable? — successor) in PKP. I’m sure she’s had a very good personal relationship with him over the years. But I don’t think she really knows Pierre Karl Péladeau any more than the rest of us do.
PKP is used to running his own show, going his own way, calling his own shots, trampling toes and egos, doing all those things that monster CEOs and multi-multi-millionaires do (only with PKP you have to multiply by 10).
So PKP as a member of L’équipe PQ? Oh my, that’s going to be fun to watch. Fun for the rest of us, if not Pauline Marois.