The former Harper government spin doctor behind a drive to build a right-leaning cable news network in Canada has abruptly quit the project, saying increasingly bitter public controversy over his role has made him a liability to the TV venture.
Kory Teneycke's decision to fall on his sword raises questions about the future of plans by Quebec billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau to establish Sun TV as a 24-hour all-news network.
Mr. Teneycke's resignation as vice-president of business development at Quebecor Media was by all appearances sudden. A press release issued the day before had the 36-year-old executive scheduled to attend a corporate announcement in Winnipeg Wednesday instead of announcing his exit.
The departure follows a list of incidents where the combative former director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper courted controversy to publicize his new venture - actions that he acknowledged Wednesday "contributed to the debasing of [the]debate" over Sun TV.
Mr. Teneycke's resignation came one day after Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby asked the RCMP and Ottawa police to investigate tampering with an online petition against Sun TV organized by global activist group Avaaz.org. The Quebecor Media employee was caught up in this incident.
Avaaz alleged that fraudsters added the names of Canadian journalists without their consent to the petition as well as fictitious characters such as Sesame Street's Snuffleupagus.
Mr. Teneycke became embroiled in the matter when he used his Twitter account Sept. 3 to announce he'd been in contact with a petition prankster. "Source e-mailed me to say they registered Boba Fett, D. Shroot, etc. Petition lacks basic controls," he wrote. Mr. Teneycke's Twitter account has since been shut down.
Avaaz announced Wednesday said data collected on the alleged fraudsters suggests they were based in Ottawa and using a Rogers Internet connection.
Mr. Teneycke largely avoided the Avaaz controversy during his resignation announcement and refused to take questions.
But where he'd previously derided the petition as a "farce," he now acknowledged it was bad for Sun Media, which faces what he called "accusations of nefarious plots with foreign media corporations" and charges it would politicize "news gathering ... for partisan gain" in Canada.
"As the saying goes, perception can be reality," Mr. Teneycke said.
"When over 80,000 people sign a petition saying your intent is to propagate hate, you know these perceptions have moved into the realm of reality."
His departure caps months of controversy. Mr. Teneycke publicly derided other news outlets as the "lame-stream media" and lashed out at Sun TV critics, calling veteran TV journalist Don Newman "the Helen Thomas of Canada." That was a reference to the disgraced White House reporter who recently resigned after saying Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to places such as Germany.
Speculation in recent weeks about alleged collusion between the Harper government and Mr. Péladeau included the extraordinary notion that former Mulroney spokesman and long time Quebecor associate Luc Lavoie would be tapped to chair the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
One source familiar with Quebecor described Mr. Teneycke's resignation as a "Hail Mary" pass, or last-ditch effort, to increase chances that federal broadcast regulators grant the company an exception to the rule in its application. Quebecor wants Ottawa to designate Sun TV channel a "must offer" channel for up to three years, meaning cable firms are obliged to at least offer it as an option.
The source warned the project is "probably dead" without this exception, adding it's considered doubtful the Harper government would intervene to help Quebecor on the file.
Quebecor spokesman Serge Sasseville said the company is moving ahead with Sun TV and confident it will get needed approvals. He declined to say what it would do if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission did not grant Sun TV the must-carry designation.
Former Mulroney spokesman Luc Lavoie takes over from Mr. Teneycke as the leader on the Sun TV file, Quebecor announced. Mr. Lavoie has had a long association with Quebecor.