Paul Desmarais

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This article is about the senior Paul Desmarais. For his son, see Paul Desmarais, Jr..
The Honourable Paul Desmarais
Born January 4, 1927
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Died October 8, 2013
Sagard, Quebec Canada
Nationality Canadian
Other names Paul Guy Desmarais
Alma mater University of Ottawa
Occupation Financier, philanthropist
Known for Chairman of Power Corporation of Canada
Founding Chairman of the Canada China Business Council
Net worth Increase$ 4.5 billion (2012)[1]
Spouse(s) Jacqueline Maranger
Children Paul Desmarais, Jr. (1954)
André Desmarais (1956)
Louise Desmarais (1959)
Sophie Desmarais (1962)
Parent(s) Jean-Noël Desmarais, Lébéa Laforest
Relatives France Chrétien Desmarais
Hélène Blouin Desmarais
Awards Officer of the Order of Canada (1978)
Companion of the Order of Canada(1987)
Officer of the National Order of Quebec (1988)
Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold II (1991)
Member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada (1992)
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (2007)

Paul Desmarais, Sr., PC CC OQ (January 4, 1927 – October 8, 2013) was a Canadian financier and philanthropist, based in Montreal. With an estimated family net worth of $US 4.5 billion (as of March 2011), Desmarais was ranked by Forbes as the fourth wealthiest person in Canada and 235th in the world.[2] He was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Power Corporation of Canada (PCC) until 1996 when he passed the reins of management of Power Corporation to his sons, Paul Jr. and André. He then continued to serve as a Director and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board and controlling shareholder. Power Corporation of Canada is a diversified international management and holding company with interests in companies in the financial services, communications and other business sectors.

Paul Desmarais was highly regarded for his standard of integrity and his commitment to a united and prosperous Canada.[3][4]

Personal life[edit]

Desmarais was born in Sudbury, Ontario to lawyer Jean-Noël Desmarais (3 May 1897-?)[5][6] and Lébéa Laforest (2 September 1899-?).[7] The Desmarais family is originally from Quebec and descended from Paul Desmarais who moved to Canada from Saint-Sauveur, France.[8]

Desmarais' grandfather Noël Desmarais founded the town of Noëlville, Ontario, now part of the municipality of French River.[6]

Desmarais was married to Jacqueline Maranger, also from Sudbury. They had two sons: Paul Jr. and André (who is married to former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's daughter France) and two daughters, Louise and Sophie.[9]

The Desmarais family has a large family estate in Sagard, Quebec, Canada between the villages of Saint-Siméon and Petit-Saguenay: Domaine Laforest. The area of the estate is over 75 square kilometers. Desmarais also owns secondary homes in Palm Beach, Florida and New York.[10]


Paul Desmarais was a very discreet philanthropist and he gave to causes in various sectors such as the arts, education, health and the homeless. Some of his significant contributions are known to the public but many remain unknown.[11][12]


After having graduated from the University of Ottawa, Desmarais went to Osgoode Law School[13] until he began working at a railroad and bus line, Sudbury Bus Lines, established by his grandfather. The company was sold to him for a symbolic 1 CAD, because it was almost bankrupt. He rescued the company and acquired additional bus lines in the Ottawa area and Quebec City (including Quebec Autobus, Provincial Transport and Regional Transport).[14] By 1968 the holding company which Desmarais had acquired three years earlier, Trans-Canada Corporation Fund (TCCF), owned the bus line Provincial Transport, an interest in Toronto-based Imperial Life Assurance and Gesca Ltée, (which had an interest in the Montreal paper La Presse). That year TCCF made a share-exchange offer with the Power Corporation of Canada, headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, whereby Paul Desmarais became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and controlling shareholder.

He founded Canada China Business Council in 1978.

Power Corporation of Canada[edit]

Taking advantage of the substantial investment of the Power Corporation of Canada, Desmarais took control of a large pulp and paper company, Consolidated Bathurst (built since in Stone-Consolidated, then merged with Abitibi-Price Inc. to form Abitibi-Consolidated, then Abitibi-Bowater and Resolute). At the same time, under the leadership of Desmarais, Power Corporation of Canada continued to acquire control positions in Great-West Life and Investors Group which formed the basis of Power Financial Corporation which was founded in 1981. Acquiring Trans-Canada Corporation Fund, Desmarais obtained the newspaper La Presse in 1968, which enabled him to gain experience in the field of print media in Canada. Then he looked for companies in Europe and he met the Belgian financier Albert Frère to the Board of Directors of Paribas. The two men discovered an alter ego, applying the same financial techniques: a friendly investment in substantial firms, some of which were experiencing financial hardship. Desmarais owned about 15% of Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, a Belgian holding company, which in 2001 acquired a 25% interest in the German media company Bertelsmann, whose subsidiaries include BMG and Random House (the German company Bertelsmann bought the 25% back in July 2006). Groupe Bruxelles Lambert has interests in Imerys, Lafarge, Total, SGS, Pernod Ricard, GDF Suez and Suez Environnement.


The Desmarais family enjoys connections to politicians worldwide. Critics charge that the family’s political connections provide it with unfair advantages in business.[15] Desmarais' relative obscurity outside of Canada has been used to hide his family's countless political connections and influence in business as well as politics.[16] Over the years political observers have pointed out the enormous and unusually powerful influence Desmarais had over Canadian federal politics. Desmarais, it has been observed by Canadian reporters, had a direct pipeline into every prime minister's office. A number of prime ministers and other influential Canadian elected officials are, or have been, financially dependent on Desmarais, including Jean Chrétien.[17] In 1974, Desmarais named employee Paul Martin, Jr. as President of a Power Corporation of Canada subsidiary, Canada Steamship Lines Inc. In 1981, he sold the company to Laurence Pathy and Paul Martin, Jr. The latter became Prime Minister of Canada in December 2003.

According to Le Figaro, Paul Desmarais Sr. was a close associate of former President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy. Paul Desmarais Sr. and Sarkozy were together at the party at Fouquet's to celebrate the election of the new President on May 6, 2007.[18] In 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy was a guest at his estate in Sagard, in Charlevoix, a good distance from the Saint Lawrence. «Quand tu entres dans la propriété, on t'ouvre un premier portail. Ensuite, tu dois faire des kilomètres et des kilomètres avant d'arriver au château...» ("When you enter the property, they open the first gate. Then you have to go kilometers and kilometers before arriving at the chateau...") Nicolas Sarkozy told about the fortitude of his friend Desmarais.[19] Sophie Desmarais' ex-husband, Eric Le Moyne de Sérigny, is also close to Nicolas Sarkozy, heads numerous companies, and is a member of the board of directors of Imerys.

Desmarais was an opponent of the Quebec sovereignty movement. On February 2, 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made comments asking Quebec sovereigntists to focus on unity and not separation from Canada, and to put their goals of sovereignty on hold during tough economic times. This angered many sovereigntists who claimed that Sarkozy was acting under the influence of Desmarais.[20]


The Canadian, Québec and Montréal flags half-masted in honour of Mr. Desmarais, at the La Presse building in Montréal.

Desmarais' funeral was a private event.[21] A public memorial was held on December 3, 2013 at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal.[22] Many politicians, dignitaries and members of the business and cultural communities were present, including: Laurent Beaudoin, Robert Charlebois, Jean Chrétien, Bill Davis, Denis Coderre, Stephen Harper, Pauline Marois, Brian Mulroney, Bob Rae and Nicolas Sarkozy.[23] Many testimonials were shared around the time of his death and the ceremony:

- George H. W. Bush: “Paul was that rarest of men, who possess not only the drive, the integrity and the vision to succeed spectacularly in business, but also a tremendous capacity for friendship. He was what I would call a true point of light, helping and usually leading many worthwhile causes. So, yes, I liked and I respected this good man immensely. At age 89 and a half, I recognize more than ever the importance and the blessings of friendship.”

- Bernard Landry: “We were totally opposed on many matters — the national fate of Quebec of course, the management of modern capitalism. But for many other things, internationalism, culture, we were on the same floor. And that’s why we remained friends.” [24]


1978 - Officer of the Order of Canada

1987 - Companion of the Order of Canada

1988 - Officer of the National Order of Quebec

1991 - Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold II (Belgium)

1992 - Member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada

2007 - Grand Cross of the National Order of the Legion of Honour

Honorary Degrees[edit]

D.C.S., University of Moncton, Moncton, New Brunswick

LL.D., Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario

D.Adm., University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

LL.D., St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova-Scotia

LL.D., Laurentian University, Greater Sudbury, Ontario

LL.D., McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

Doctorate Honoris Causa, University of Montréal, Montréal, Québec

LL.D. University of East Asia, Macau

LL.D., Memorial University Of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland

LL.D., Concordia University, Montréal, Québec

LL.D., McGill University, Montréal, Québec

D.Adm., Laval University, Québec, Québec

LL.D., University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

LL.D., University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba



Ribbon bars of Paul Desmarais
Academic offices
Preceded by
G. Alain Frecker
Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
His Honour the Hon. John Crosbie


  1. ^ "The World's Billionaires 2013". Forbes. March 2013. 
  2. ^ "The World's Billionaires List". Forbes. March 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Jean Yves Pelletier. "Paul Desmarais". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  7. ^ "Genealogy tree family: Laforest". Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  8. ^ "Genealogy Paul Desmarais". 2007-01-14. Retrieved 2014-07-18. 
  9. ^ André et Paul Jr deviennent Officiers, Québec Métro, June 20, 2009.
  10. ^ Desmarais advances on Buffett zone, The Australian, August 3, 2009.
  11. ^ Paul Desmarais : entrepreneur, financier et philanthrope modèle
  12. ^ Paul Desmarais en cinq temps
  13. ^ [3]
  14. ^ The Name Is ‘Power’ and It Fits, The New York Times, January 26, 2007.
  15. ^ The Name Is ‘Power’ and It Fits, The New York Times, January 26, 2007.
  16. ^ Desmarais advances on Buffett zone, The Australian, August 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Globe and Mail hyperventilating on Harper picture misses the real news, Canada Free Press, June 25, 2010.
  18. ^ « Vacances du président : la piste canadienne » Le Figaro.
  19. ^ Un Sarkozy chez Carlyle, l'autre décore Albert Frère : y a-t-il un lien ?, Trends, March 6, 2008.
  20. ^ Authier, Philip; O'Neil, Peter (2009-02-03). "Sarkozy's sovereignty comments spark anger in Quebec". The National Post. Canwest News Service. Archived from the original on 2010-01-25. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  21. ^ "Le village de Sagard rend hommage à Paul Desmarais". Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  22. ^ CBC News  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ "Paul Desmarais’s funeral draws A-list of politics past and present". Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Politicians past and present pay tribute to the late Paul Desmarais". Retrieved October 30, 2014. 

External links[edit]