Rookie takes on media mogul in St. Jerome

CAQ's Patrice Charbonneau plans to take on PQ star candidate in St. Jerome.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A rookie politician who has taken a break from his sales job to battle Pierre Karl Peladeau is unfazed by the task of thwarting one of Canada's biggest media magnates on the campaign trail.

Patrice Charbonneau, a real-estate agent from St-Jerome, will try to cling to the seat for the Coalition for Quebec's Future party next month when he takes on the multimillionaire owner of Quebecor Media Inc. 

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois shook up the campaign last weekend when she named Peladeau as her superstar candidate in the swing riding of Saint-Jerome north of Montreal, a key district in her drive for a majority government.

Peladeau's candidacy is considered a major coup for the PQ and many believe he could emerge as a powerful pro-sovereignty force in any future referendum on Quebec independence.

However, the mogul's first obstacle is Charbonneau.

Relatively unknown in the community, the stepfather of five plays badminton every Friday and manages his regular schedule around the one vehicle he shares with his spouse.

Charbonneau, who has rented a car for the campaign, warns he shouldn't be taken lightly.

The 43-year-old said Tuesday that unlike his parachuted opponent he knows what needs to be done in the area.

``I'll tell you one thing, if Mr. Peladeau and the Parti Quebecois underestimate Patrice Charbonneau and his team they will be making a grave error,''

Charbonneau told The Canadian Press in an interview metres away from the spot where Marois unveiled Peladeau as her prized candidate.

``Yes, it's David vs. Goliath. I know that. But I think that, like in the story, David can beat Goliath and he will do it.''

The area, about 50 kilometres from Montreal at the edge of the Laurentians, has elected MNAs from three different parties in the last three elections.

The Coalition snatched it from the PQ in the 2012 election thanks to its own big-name candidate: anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau. The former Montreal police chief won it in a cliffhanger by a little more than two percentage points.

When Duchesneau decided against running for the April 7 election, he left the door open for new blood.

Charbonneau believes the key to beating Peladeau, a prominent-yet-polarizing figure in Quebec, will be listening to constituents and sharing his ideas on how to address local issues. His goals include attracting well-paying jobs and revitalizing downtown St-Jerome.

He credited his own work as a real-estate agent, a job he started in 2009, with helping him understand community concerns through his clients.

Charbonneau, who has never met Peladeau, also hopes to test the entrepreneur's knowledge of the riding in a local candidates' debate.

``I'm not intimidated at all by an eventual confrontation with Mr. Peladeau and I'm not saying this in an arrogant way,'' said Charbonneau, who holds a university degree in political science but has never before run for a public office.

``I'm overflowing with confidence.''

On Tuesday, there were no obvious signs in downtown St-Jerome that Peladeau is running in the election.

The campaign posters in the heart of the city were splashed with the faces of Charbonneau and Marois. The Opposition Liberals, who came a distant third in the 2012 election, have yet to announce a candidate in the riding.

In his inaugural news conference on Sunday, Peladeau promised to work hard for the district.

``I intend to get elected and to represent the riding of all the electors of Saint-Jerome,'' said Peladeau, whose prominent family has roots in the nearby Laurentians.

Peladeau, who's known across Quebec as PKP, needs no introduction in any corner of the province.

Quebecor, founded by his father, has a number of holdings, including cable provider Videotron, tabloid newspapers Le Journal de Montreal and Le Journal de Quebec, as well as the French-language TVA television network and the 24-hour TV news channel LCN.

The media titan, who has resigned as vice-chairman of Quebecor, also owns regional newspapers across the province, though he is in the process of selling them off pending regulatory approval.

One of those papers, L'Echo du Nord, covered Peladeau's stunning announcement.

Peladeau, himself a rookie politician, told the newspaper in an interview he would be present in the riding.

``I have not received any guarantees and I haven't asked for any,'' said Peladeau, whose company also owns the Sun chain of newspapers and the Sun News Network outside of Quebec.

Amid widespread concerns about his potential influence on media coverage, Peladeau has said his outlets would maintain their editorial independence.

For his part, Charbonneau said that so far he thinks the Quebecor journalists have been fair with him in their coverage.

One of his main challenges will be raising his profile in the area.

St-Jerome Mayor Stephane Maher said he had never heard of Charbonneau, who first moved to the region in 1998.

Maher was pleased to hear that Peladeau could lend his business expertise to the riding, which shares the same boundaries as his city. The former PQ MNA for the region, Gilles Robert, was elected to his council last fall.

``It's very, very good news for us,'' Maher said of Peladeau's candidacy before later adding: ``I am totally apolitical. What we're looking for is the best for our city.''

Charbonneau said he expected the PQ to run a star opponent against him for such an important seat.

Standing on the main drag, he mused about what it might feel like to beat Peladeau.

``It would be a party.''

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  1. ric posted on 03/11/2014 09:42 PM
    Mr. Charbonneau, go for the jugular. Don't even mention separation. Only talk about the economy, jobs, health care and education. Even though you are not my party of choice, peladeau must fall along with marois.
    1. Drew posted on 03/12/2014 04:08 PM
      @ric Very well said Ric
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