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By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, May 29 (Reuters) - Quebecor Inc plans to promote former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to chairman after the media and telecommunications conglomerate's controlling shareholder stepped down to enter politics.
Mulroney, a staunch supporter of a federal Canada that includes the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec, could help the company distance itself from former Chief Executive Pierre Karl Péladeau.
In a surprise move earlier this year, Péladeau stepped down from all functional roles at the company his father founded to run for the separatist Parti Québécois. He now sits in the provincial legislature.
The issue of separation is contentious in Quebec and the rest of Canada. But Quebecor has said it had not seen an impact on its business from Péladeau's move into politics.
The move came after the company purchased airwaves that could allow it to expand its wireless phone business beyond Quebec to provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. The industry is regulated by the federal government, which has said it wants four operators in every region of the country.
The Parti Québécois lost power in a provincial election earlier this year. But Péladeau won his seat and has been touted as a potential leader of the party, which wants to take the province out of Canada.
He retains control of most Quebecor voting shares but has placed them in a blind trust.
Quebecor's telephone, cable television and Internet service operations are currently restricted to the province of Quebec. The company also owns the Sun chain of daily newspapers sold across the country.
If elected at the company's annual shareholder meeting on June 19, Mulroney will succeed Francoise Bertrand, who has decided to stand down, according to a regulatory filing on Wednesday. (http://link.reuters.com/jab79v)
Bertrand is joining the company's wireless and cable arm, Videotron, as chief executive.
Quebecor named longtime lieutenant Robert Depatie to replace Péladeau, but he stepped down soon after due to health issues and was succeeded by Pierre Dion.
Mulroney, a lawyer before entering politics as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, was the prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993.
This month, Quebecor posted a better-than-expected profit for the first quarter, helped by cost-cutting and asset sales. But the company reported customer losses in cable TV and telephony and a slow growth in Internet.
Quebecor's shares slipped 0.2 percent to C$26.69 on the Toronto Stock Exchange by early afternoon on Wednesday. (With additional reporting by Shubhankar Chakravorty in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey, Jeffrey Hodgson and Jonathan Oatis)
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