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Quebecor Media Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau addresses a news conference in Toronto, Tuesday, June 15, 2010 to launch the proposed Sun TV News Channel. (NATHAN DENETTE/NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebecor Media Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau addresses a news conference in Toronto, Tuesday, June 15, 2010 to launch the proposed Sun TV News Channel. (NATHAN DENETTE/NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Television

Here comes the Sun (News Network). Will it shine? Add to ...

Shortly before the supper hour Monday, an upstart TV news channel will hit the airwaves in Canada: the brainchild of a former Harper government spin doctor and a Quebec media billionaire.

The Sun News Network's debut represents the first launch of an all-news channel on Canadian TV in more than 13 years.

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Conceived by Kory Teneycke, a former director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the channel is bankrolled by Quebecor's Pierre Karl Péladeau and modelled on the right-leaning U.S. network Fox News, as well as Ted Turner's Cable News Network (CNN).

Sun News Network, whose slogan is "hard news and straight talk," is expected to bring an entirely new voice to the TV broadcast landscape, marrying the tabloid sensibilities of Quebecor's right-leaning Sun Media newspapers to Canadian television news programming.

Sun News hits the air with a vow to shake up a market dominated by two broadcasters - CBC and CTV. Both operate 24-hour news channels with a fairly centrist perspective on current events, one the newcomer's backers dismiss as politically correct and "boring."

On Monday, one of the first faces Canadians will see on Sun News is conservative provocateur and author Ezra Levant, host of a show running at 5 p.m. ET called The Source.

Each evening, the channel will feature a series of news-and-views shows hosted by colourful personalities such as talk-radio fixture Charles Adler; many of them will wear their opinions on their sleeves.

It's a populist formula that Fox News and CNN have perfected - one that's spelled success in Canada for journalists who couldn't be considered right wing, such as Jean-Luc Mongrain at Quebecor's French-language news channel Le Canal Nouvelles (LCN).

Love him or hate him, Levant predicts, Canadians will tune in.

"Frankly, I think some of the people who are going to hate it are going to watch it because they're going to say 'Oh my God, I've got to see what he's doing next,' " Levant says.

Sun News aims to create distinctly branded shows and personalities that it can rely on to stand out in a 500-channel universe. Eventually, Quebecor hopes, it might be able to cash in on these brands, selling related merchandise such as books and clothing in the same way Fox News does in the United States.

It promises a more opinionated format and a contrarian voice, one that's more right wing than incumbents - even attacking them as out of touch in marketing. "Our media really doesn't get it," a man in one Sun TV promo says of other outlets. Hosts boast in ads that the new network will be "covering the stories no one else will even touch."

As Luc Lavoie, a former Brian Mulroney spokesman who's part of the venture, described it six months ago, the style of Sun News will be "the style of people who rattle the cage."

The channel aims to feature more than just politics - Teneycke has talked about covering the opening of Victoria's Secret lingerie stores with the same gusto as major events - but its opinion slant means the network will feature a lot of political content.

It might seem calculated then that the Sun News launch date is three weeks into a federal election campaign.

But inside the fledgling operation, employees have been scrambling to meet a deadline that was set well before the Harper government fell and the writ was dropped.

More than 140 staff have been hired in the last two and a half months. Sun News has conducted weeks of dress rehearsals on its sets - and in a last-minute change of heart it's even reshuffled its lineup, parting ways with a prime-time TV show co-host, Mercedes Stephenson, only one week before going to air.

In its application for Sun News to federal regulators last year, Quebecor said ratings showed the most popular all-news TV channel in English-speaking Canada was not CBC or CTV, but CNN.

"Canadians do not watch CNN for hard news, but more for interview style and more opinioned programs like Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360 and Campbell Brown," Quebecor wrote.

This gamble takes Péladeau outside of his comfort zone in Quebec, where he dominates French-language media.

It has not been an easy birth. Detractors dubbed the channel "Fox News North" and an international activist group, Avaaz.org, gathered names for an online petition last year to stop Sun News.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission refused Péladeau's initial requests for special treatment, denying him a licence that would oblige cable and satellite companies to carry Sun News on their services - and later rejecting a provision that would have required distributors to offer the channel on at least one of their packages in the first three years.

It finally awarded him a standard licence for a specialty channel last November.

The channel ended up cutting Teneycke loose for more than three months last year, severing ties to the former Harper aide because, he explained at the time, increasingly bitter public acrimony over his role had made him a liability to the TV venture. At the time, Quebecor was petitioning the CRTC for approval.

After Sun News got its licence, Teneycke returned to helm the project.

Distribution is still a work in progress for the new channel. Based on figures provided by Quebecor, it should initially reach in excess of 6.3 million households. That's through deals with Shaw and Videotron that will provide the channel to their digital subscribers, as well as throughout Ontario where the Sun TV channel under its previous format has been broadcast to more than 3.1 million households by cable distributors. (This Ontario figure doesn't include viewers who are not cable subscribers but pick the channel up with rabbit-ear antennas.)

Sun News is currently negotiating with other distributors such as Rogers to carry the channel across Canada.

Levant says Sun News will break from what he calls a "cozy duopoly" of news channels prone to "group-think" on subjects from "man-made global warming" to gun laws to former child soldier Omar Khadr .

"It's not just they happen to be liberal in so many ways. It's a consensus."

He decries warnings from luminaries such as veteran journalist Don Newman, who has voiced concern that Sun News would have a polarizing effect on Canadian politics, stirring up the Conservative base and producing more hardened positions between federal parties.

"Maybe that's proof they know they weren't speaking for everybody and liked the fact that only they got to hold the microphone," Levant said.

With reports from Susan Krashinsky and Iain Marlow

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