Media Baron Joins Quebec's Separatist Cause

By Benjamin Shingler

MONTREAL (AP) -- He's one of Canada's most powerful media barons, with an empire that spans newspapers, cable television and cellphone services.

Now, Quebec multi-millionaire 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 with the separatist Parti Quebecois in the province's legislative election April 7 has helped fuel talk of another referendum on secession - if the party wins a coveted majority of seats.

Peladeau's candidacy, announced Sunday, has pushed Quebec independence to the forefront of the campaign after PQ leader and Premier Pauline Marois initially avoided the issue when she dissolved the legislature and called the election last week.

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 retaining the Canadian dollar and keeping 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 Quebec independence remains stuck at around 40 percent and hasn't changed significantly in 10 years. Quebec, which is 80 percent 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.

But many Quebecois have long dreamed of an independent Quebec, as they at times haven't felt respected and have worried about the survival of their language in English-speaking North America. Decades ago, they thrilled to visiting French President Charles de Gaulle and his cry of "Vive le Quebec libre!" - long live free Quebec.

Peladeau, owner of Quebecor Media Inc., was once considered one of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's closest allies in the Quebec business community. He also founded Sun News, a populist, right-wing news channel sometimes likened to a "Fox News North."

But Peladeau removed any doubt about his political beliefs this week, declaring himself a committed sovereigntist who wants to "make Quebec a country."

One political analyst said Peladeau's candidacy has allowed the PQ to tie together two key issues: the economy and the party's ultimate quest 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 political science professor at McGill University.

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© 2014 The Associated Press

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