QUEBEC — The sale of the St-Hubert rotisserie-chicken chain to an Ontario-based company had Pierre Karl Peladeau crying foul Thursday over what he called Premier Philippe Couillard’s indifference to supporting Quebec Inc.
The Parti Quebecois leader’s feathers were clearly ruffled after he heard of the $537-million acquisition by Cara Operations Ltd.
Calling it a “sad day for Quebec,” Peladeau roasted the Liberal government, claiming it is not doing enough to prevent takeovers of Quebec companies by out-of-province interests.
He cited the $3.2-billion sale of hardware chain Rona (TSX:RON) to U.S.-based Lowe’s, which Rona shareholders overwhelmingly approved Thursday, as well as the purchase of the famed Cirque du Soleil by a U.S. private equity firm.
Peladeau’s Twitter account featured several messages related to the St-Hubert sale and included a map of Quebec with the slogan, “For Sale, Please Contact Philippe Couillard.” The map also showed the names of Rona, Alcan, Cirque du Soleil and St-Hubert all crossed out.
“The indifference with which the premier watches the dissolution of Quebec Inc., as well as his determination to do nothing to defend corporate head offices in Quebec is unacceptable,” Peladeau said. “It’s as if with him (Couillard), Quebec is for sale.”
Peladeau often says he wants the government to play a larger role in helping distressed Quebec firms stay in the province. He regularly notes how Quebec’s investment arm invested heavily in cable company Videotron to keep it in the province.
Videotron is a cash cow in the portfolio of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), of which Peladeau remains the controlling shareholder.
Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, took his turn lamenting how so many Quebec companies are flying the coop.
He noted how the CEO of St-Hubert said he couldn’t find a Quebec buyer.
“That’s a serious statement,” Legault said. “Our economy doesn’t produce a sufficient amount of wealth to stop our corporate head offices from leaving. We are becoming a branch plant economy.”
As for Jean-Pierre Leger, St-Hubert’s chairman and CEO and a member of the company’s founding family didn’t see what the fuss was about when he was grilled for selling to Cara (TSX:CAO).
“It’s not a Chinese company, it’s not an American company, it’s a Canadian company,” he said. “So, why not? Why not?”
Economy Minister Dominique Anglade said she would have preferred “in an ideal world” for St-Hubert to remain in the province.
She noted Quebec wants to intervene more directly in the future when such transactions take place.
“But the basic question is how do we ensure our society creates the next Mr. Leger, who will launch the next St-Hubert?” Anglade said.
Quebec is still on the positive side of the ledger since 2010, she argued, with Quebec businesses making 258 acquisitions outside the province and only 85 going the other way.