Sell or Run for Office: The Problem with Pierre-Karl Péladeau's Blind Trust
by clc55 on April 6, 2015 - 5:50pm
Does Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s promise of placing his Québecor shares in a blind trust influence the media in ethically troubling ways?
Aspiring government leaders are often forced to place their business holdings and properties in what are called “blind trusts”. A blind trust usually involves the shareholder retaining ownership of his/her assets, but giving up the right to exercise the voting power associated with them. The voting rights are then usually passed onto the board members of the company or any other individual appointed as a trustee. The purpose is to avoid any conflicts of interest between the public policy enacted by the individual and his/her business interests. Oftentimes, the use of blind trusts is effective, however, in Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s case, a transfer of his shares of Québecor into a blind trust, would influence the media in ethically troubling ways.
Péladeau’s case is particularly sensitive because of the industry that Québecor operates in. The company is primarily a media conglomerate and owns dozens of newspapers and television networks. This is extremely problematic due to the potential bias that might follow if he were to win the leadership, and potentially, the premiership. If he were to retain ownership of the company, regardless of the use of a blind trust or not, his media outlets would be more likely to publish content in support of him and his policies. And, since a significant proportion of the provincial population uses Québecor’s subsidiaries as their primary news sources, they would then be more likely to succumb to the biased messages being transmitted through the media. They would feel more inclined to support him and his policies since the news sources that they have generally trusted, will be holding these views that are in favour of Péladeau. Thus, people are manipulated and influenced into thinking or voting a certain way.
From a utilitarian perspective, Péladeau’s retention of his shares is unethical. His actions would not maximize utility and therefore, violate the Greatest Happiness Principle. By remaining the primary owner of the corporation, potential bias in his media outlets benefits himself first and foremost. Whether or not his intention is noble, a biased media would unfairly aid him in garnering support. As such, this would contribute to the selfish desire to remain in power. Ultimately, the possibility of him staying in power for a prolonged period of time brings utility to himself before the possibility of it being brought to the rest of the population. Similarly, from a deontological perspective, Péladeau’s stake in Québécor is unethical precisely because of the unfair advantage it offers him versus his political opponents. Being aided by substantial media bias would break the categorical imperative since a society in which there were unfair political advantages would allow for a faulty representation of the will of a democratic population.
Now that the ownership of a media conglomerate by a politician can be considered unethical, how exactly is Péladeau’s desire to place his holdings in a blind trust also ethically troublesome? First of all, according to Philip Authier from the Montreal Gazette, Péladeau was said to have expressed that were he to place his shares in a blind trust, he would instruct the trustee not to ever sell his shares. As was pointed out by members of other political parties, such an action would be counterintuitive to the whole notion of a blind trust and would indicate that Péladeau still has influence over his company (Authier). More importantly, this technicality undermining the true goal of a blind trust is directly related to another reason why people like CAQ leader Francois Legault would have Péladeau sell his shares outright.
While the latter pursues his career in politics, those back at Québecor would be cautious with the decisions they make with his voting rights and the content they choose to publish. They would not be able to freely operate because if Péladeau were to return to his company after his political exploits, their jobs would potentially be in danger depending on their decisions in his absence. In other words, employees at his corporation would act in ways that please Péladeau and contribute to his political agenda for fear of being targeted upon his eventual return. This is especially amplified by the notion that Péladeau would instruct his trustee to never sell his shares in the corporation (Authier). Even though he was quoted as saying that the retention of his shares would be in order for them to be passed onto his children (Authier), the possibility of them being used as a means to return to the company might be enough to influence the actions of those exercising his voting powers and the actions of his staff at the conglomerate’s various subsidiaries. Ultimately, influencing those responsible for publishing media content for Québecor, leads to the unethical manipulation of the masses that consume said content.
To conclude, Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s desire to place his shares of Québecor into a blind trust influences the media in an ethically troubling way. From a utilitarian perspective, the transmission of biased content in the media is unethical because it furthers Péladeau’s political interests by manipulating the greater population. Moreover, the use of a blind trust is insufficient because it does not guarantee the independent action of employees at Québecor. In this regard, an involvement in the media by a politician provides a conflict of interest that is nearly impossible to neutralize.
Authier, Philip. "Péladeau's Plan for Blind Trust Called into Question by Legal
Adviser." Montreal Gazette. Postmedia, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.