A tale of two patronage appointments

Martin Patriquin on Bernard Drainville’s conspicuous silence

(Jacques Boissinot/CP)

To be fair to Parti Québécois MNA Bernard Drainville, if you are in politics long enough, you’re pretty much guaranteed to become a hypocrite at one point or another. In Drainville’s case, it’s taken him just over two years to fall victim to this particularly pungent side effect of partisan politics. And boy, did he do it in style.

Yesterday, the PQ Premier Pauline Marois announced the appointment of erstwhile Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau as chairman of the board of Hydro-Québec. Nothing wrong here, of course. Nakedly political and partisan appointments to Crown corporations are as much a staple in Quebec as anywhere else. It’s a way of thanking well-connected party supporters, currying favour with the powerful, and/or stealthily (or not so stealthily) advancing one’s own political agenda. Call it a winner’s perk, for both the political party and the individual involved. Drainville must approve; he hasn’t utter a peep about Peladeau’s appointment.

This certainly wasn’t the case two years ago, when Drainville was righteously (and rightly) outraged at the patronage appointment of former Bell Canada CEO Michael Sabia, that other wealthy, well-connected businessman with known ties to the government in power. Here’s the transcript of a video snippet of Drainville’s reaction when Charest appointed Sabia as CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement, the provincially controlled public pension plan manager, in March 2009.

The reason we think [Sabia] is disqualified for the job of CEO [of La Caisse], is because of the process by which he was appointed. Michael Sabia was chosen by Jean Charest. There should have been a much more open process where other candidates were examined. In fact, the Caisse de dépot only considered one candidate, and it was Michael Sabia. […] It was obviously a political decision. The Caisse shouldn’t be politicized, to become an instrument of the Premier of Quebec. It makes no sense.

Drainville’s 2009 musings about Sabia are even more fragrant in retrospect for a couple of other reasons. He scolded Charest for having appointed Sabia in part because Sabia still had business interests in Bell Canada. Drainville went so far as to say Sabia was in “conflict of interest” because Sabia could potentially benefit financially from Caisse decisions.

Yet though Peladeau recently stepped down as Quebecor CEO, he is still very much involved in the company. As the Toronto Star noted, Peladeau “will become chairman of the board of Quebecor Media and vice-chairman of the parent company, Quebecor Inc.” Translation: Michael Sabia and Pierre Karl Peladeau were in roughly the same situation when appointed to their respected patronage-drenched gigs.

And it’s hard to imagine Peladeau’s appointment as anything but political. One example: Marois spent much time and political capital devising and ramming through Bill 204, which cleared potentially pesky legal hurdles for Quebecor’s new arena project in Quebec City. She lost three longtime PQ MNAs as a result.

Finally, Drainville is a former journalist whose job it once was to point out this sort of political overindulgence. As a politician, he has done it only when it suited partisan ends. How’s the muzzle taste, Mr. Drainville?

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