The man who is girding himself to wage war on the TV-news establishment keeps a Roman centurion's helmet in his office and a map of the Battle of Trafalgar on his living-room wall.
Kory Teneycke, the force behind Quebecor Media's plans for the upstart Sun TV news network, has been a steadfast soldier for conservative causes all the way back to the Grant Devine Tories' failed 1991 re-election bid in Saskatchewan.
As recently as a year ago, the self-assured 35-year-old, who says he "almost never" takes vacations, was chief spokesman for Stephen Harper in the Prime Minister's Office. Now, the self-described outsider from Young, Sask., is an unlikely media mogul, with little direct experience in the broadcasting industry but an acknowledged record of accomplishment in politics, lobbying and public relations.
Whether you love it or hate it, whether you think we're on the right track or the wrong track, I only care if you are watching. Kory Teneycke
The bid by Quebecor's new vice-president of business development to establish a populist, right-of-centre TV news network to Canada - an extension of the company's Sun tabloid chain - could help decide whether debate in this country takes on a more conservative tone. One challenge will be to demonstrate the network is serving viewers rather than Mr. Teneycke's former political employers.
Mr. Teneycke ("Ten-IKE") was always hard to miss on Parliament Hill, owing to his lanky six-foot, four-inch frame, and in his private life he is fond of both target shooting and history. In his Ottawa home he actually has three pieces linked to the Battle of Trafalgar, and the political scrapper is comfortable drawing big-picture lessons from famous military exploits.
He said he considered the 1805 British naval victory over Napoleon and the Spanish, for instance, a turning point for the "Anglosphere": "It's the triumph of our system over ... a rival system which was, at its core, tyrannical."
Such a righteous cause isn't far from how Mr. Teneycke approaches his gamble on bringing a right-leaning TV network to Canada come January. The Canadian media, he said, are "lazy and complacent" and produce boring and elitist news, because protectionist barriers shelter them from foreign competition. He's betting there's a hunger among viewers, from across the ideological spectrum, for punchier, more opinionated offerings, modelled on Fox News in the U.S. - and on the style Mr. Teneycke honed in his years in the political game.
FROM WHEAT FIELDS TO 'SWAT TEAMS'
Born in Regina, Mr. Teneycke was raised on a grain farm in rural Saskatchewan. He moved away within months of finishing high school, eager for new experiences and a bigger role in politics. "I got luggage on my 18th birthday and that's when I left," he said.
His first destination was Quebec City, where he tried a crash course in French at Laval University, an attraction for a prairie kid whose heroes included Quebecker Brian Mulroney - and who had grown up where "French was a form of kissing or a type of thinly cut potato, deeply fried."
Laval didn't go as planned. Mr. Teneycke found learning French more difficult than expected, but he ended up meeting his future wife, Kelley Sherwood, a fellow student. They married in 2000 and now have two young children.
Mr. Teneycke's grandparents were dyed-in-the wool supporters of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a precursor to the NDP, while their grandson has moved from the Progressive Conservatives to Reform, the Saskatchewan Party, the Ontario Tories under Mike Harris and the Harper government. Yet Mr. Teneycke doesn't consider this such a jump from the old-time CCF.
"It wasn't about running deficits They were fighting rail monopolies and eastern banks; they were standing for a very traditional set of values and protecting the little guy."
In many ways, Sun TV is just the latest form he's bringing to that populist sensibility: He'll bring his organizational skill to bear on crafting clever, anti-elitist appeals, with a talent for milking controversy, as he often has in politics.
In 1997, he organized a Reform Party Youth Swat Team that donned rubber Brian Mulroney masks and dogged then-Conservative leader Jean Charest, heckling him about his connection to the still-unpopular former prime minister.