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Kory Teneycke: One smooth operator who's crazy like a Fox

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.

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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.


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."

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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.

During a four-year stint as a lobbyist for the ethanol and biodiesel industry, he managed (despite his own free-market views) to extract $2-billion in incentives for the sector - an amount on the scale of military procurement. Before his term at the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association was up in 2007, he had used his media savvy to parlay an Ottawa controversy over its mascot - the cheekily named Corncob Bob - into international satirical coverage on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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Former Harper aide Ian Brodie said Mr. Teneycke's campaign was among the best lobbying efforts he's ever seen. A Conservative cabinet minister, who requested anonymity, said he was personally opposed to ethanol subsidies but was amazed how Mr. Teneycke " took a boring, dormant issue and sexed it up."

In 2008, Mr. Teneycke also played an integral role in using mailouts and web ads to deliver the Conservative attack on then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's Green Plan and its proposed carbon tax - helping sink the idea before it got off the ground.

"He understood exactly what the stakes were and he drove a huge organizational effort to make sure there was not a single mailbox or op-ed page untouched by our side of the argument anywhere in the country," Mr. Brodie said.

The Tory cabinet minister noted that Mr. Teneycke has also proved that he knows "how to operate a stiletto" if political bosses requested it. During his one year as director of communications for the Prime Minister's Office, he was praised for bringing more openness to the post but didn't shy away from taking complaints about media coverage all the way to senior editors in the industry.


Yet Mr. Teneycke rejects the suggestion that Sun TV is designed to further Conservative fortunes. Being a house organ for the Tories would not make commercial sense, he said. He promised there'd be a clear line between editorializing on the station's talk shows and news gathering by its journalists - although, he added, reported stories would be more "populist in orientation."

The idea of a broadcast offering that drew on the Sun Media paper and web machine isn't entirely new, and when Mr. Teneycke pitched Quebecor chief Pierre Péladeau on the idea, he said, the tycoon was intrigued enough to give him a contract in 2009 to build the business case.

He said Quebecor has been successful in bringing its Quebec media holdings - from broadcast to print to Internet - together in a convergence model and wants to repeat this success in English Canada, where it's still mainly a newspaper company.

While some question whether there's a large enough viewer base for such a network, Mr. Teneycke argued that Canadians, conservative or not, are keen to watch more lively debate hosted by more colourful personalities. (He cited a 2008 Pew Centre survey that shows 39 per cent of Fox News viewers identified themselves as at least leaning Democrat.)

"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."

On the other hand, if you want Fox in Canada, why not just let the U.S. network move in here? Mr. Teneycke said he'd welcome deregulation that would allow more foreign investment in Canadian broadcasting and other sectors - and predicted it will happen over time. He declined to comment on whether Quebecor hopes that Ottawa will lift investment restrictions so it can tap foreign investors for Sun TV capital.

It's clear, however, that Mr. Teneycke hopes there'll be spin-off benefits for the right in Canada.

In March, only months before announcing Sun TV, Mr. Teneycke told a panel on the state of conservative movement that a key challenge for right-leaning Canadians was securing a bigger presence on TV, a medium he called a "wasteland" for them.

"We're doing well in print. I think we're doing well in radio. I think we're doing all right online but we're doing terribly on television," Mr. Teneycke told the 2010 Manning Networking Conference. "If we want to be successful as a movement, we have to get on TV .... in a much bigger way than we have today."

He also signalled that he's prepared to use his editorial powers to target some of the bête noires of the Canadian right. "If you have a teacher or examples of teachers who are trying to jam lefty philosophy down your throat, please send me an e-mail," Mr. Teneycke told a high-school student at the March conference. "I'd love to make them famous."

Before now, the most conspicuous recent case of a media organization trying to pull the agenda to the right was Conrad Black's 1998 launch of The National Post - which to most observers, hasn't turned out quite as planned. Mr. Teneycke, however, noted that the paper, "in terms of succeeding in capturing market share, was doing very well under Conrad Black. It was sold to the Aspers and well, the story of the Aspers is well known."

He noted that Mr. Black "sold the paper for a huge profit and did very well."

Not everyone is impressed with Quebecor's plans. Veteran political journalist Don Newman, who has covered Parliament Hill for CBC, is concerned Sun TV will have a polarizing effect on Canadian politics, stirring up the Conservative base and producing more hardened positions between Commons parties.

"I'm not opposed to more news channels ... but I really wonder if it's going to be used as a bully pulpit."

He said Mr. Teneycke talked about such a channel when they met back in 2003, after a Saskatchewan election. "He seemed to blame the traditional media, and I guess particularly the CBC, for the defeat of the Saskatchewan Party by the NDP. He said 'What we really need in Canada is a Fox News network.'"

So does Mr. Teneycke fancy himself Canada's answer to Roger Ailes, the Republican media consultant turned president of Fox News?

"I have to gain a lot of weight and have a lot of success before I can make that comparison," Mr. Teneycke said, laughing. "Roger Ailes is the most successful man in television and I am just a kid who hasn't proven anything yet."

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