Pierre-Karl Péladeau, the head of telecommunications behemoth Québecor, published an open letter in this morning’s Journal de Québec blasting unions for hampering the province’s economic progress. Not surprisingly, the missive isn’t going over very well. For those of you who can stomach record-breaking run-on sentences, here are the juiciest bits, translated into la langue de Gainey:
Without wanting to call into question either their existence or the positive contributions these organizations have made over the 20th century, we need to question the imbalance all the legislation of the past decades has created between employers and unions, an imbalance which has and continues more than ever to handicap Quebec businesses in the context of an increasingly globalized economy, to make the emergence of young businesspeople more difficult, and to hamper our collective desire, not to say our obligation to improve our productivity in order to meet the many challenges of which we’ve been made aware by economic and social commentators.
Shouldn’t we also question the privilege afforded employees involved in a labour conflict to not pay income tax on the financial compensation they receive from their unions, an exceptional measure that forces taxpayers who are already among the most heavily-burdened on the continent to finance the positions taken by unions?
Many members of the intelligentsia will no doubt come to the defence of the positive actions of Quebec unions. […] Have these right-thinking people ever been confronted by the reality business leaders and business people like my colleagues and I face on a daily basis, in Canada as much as elsewhere, in a context of global competitiveness? In Quebec, business leaders must devote too much time, energy, and money managing their “labour relations” whereas elsewhere, the many stakeholders involved in businesses work together to ensure the pursuit of the development of their activities and increases in productivity in order to gain traction in global markets, as much in the manufacturing sectors as in the sectors of information and technology.
While unions in Quebec have become an economic force as powerful as it is undeniable, as evidenced by our unionization rate of around 40% which is the highest in North America, why should these organizations benefit from so many privileges that are less and less justifiable in a context where transparency and accountability have rightfully invaded the political and economic spheres?
Péladeau fails to mention it, but he’s got a few horses in this race. Perhaps no other Quebec employer has as gleefully locked out its employees as Québecor has in recent years. To wit: the ongoing, year-old lock-out at the Journal de Montréal, the 16-month-long lock-out of workers at the Journal de Québec between 2007 and 2008, the year-long lock-out of Vidéotron employees in 2002. In fact, since 2002, Québecor has resorted to locking out unionized employees no less than 10 times. Péladeau’s suggestion the tax status of strike pay should figure into a wide-range discussion of organized labour’s impact on competitiveness and productivity shows the degree to which this is above all a personal battle for him. (Péladeau’s pre-emptive invocation against the elites is even more absurd. As if inheriting the reins of Québecor didn’t amount to being handed as loud a megaphone as there is in the province.)
Almost as jarring are Péladeau’s paeans to competition. Many of Québecor’s recent successes can be attributed to Péladeau’s (arguably brilliant) ability to get his entire media operation pushing a single product while simultaneously locking out competitors and consumers unwilling to swallow that product whole. Take Star Académie, Quebec’s answer to American Idol, for instance: the show was broadcast on Péladeau’s network (TVA); it was heavily promoted and covered by his stable of newspapers and magazines, all of whom had steady access to “exclusive” interviews and other “exclusive” content; and access to the website, which contained yet more “exclusive” material was restricted to Vidéotron’s broadband Internet customers. Combine all that with the fact the show was hosted by Péladeau’s spouse, Julie Snyder, and it makes for as hermetic a product as could be imagined.
Péladeau may very well be right that Quebec needs to re-assess its labour laws. At least in the construction industry, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about organized labour’s reticence to embrace “transparency and accountability” (though Péladeau’s apparent belief that business and government have adopted either requires nothing short of wilful ignorance). But there’s a distinct problem with the messenger here. As La Presse‘s Sophie Cousineau ably put it last December: “It’s as if Pierre Karl Péladeau were always wearing glasses that made him see the world as it should be for Québecor. And if reality must be altered to conform to this vision, well, so be it.” In other words, Péladeau has seemingly become unable to differentiate between what’s good for Quebec and what’s good for Québecor, and that should make anyone wary of manning his barricades.