Canada

Spinning the Sun TV bid

Despite a sudden change at the top, plans are going ahead without missing a beat for the launch of Sun TV, the right-of-centre news channel sponsored by Pierre Karl Péladeau and his Quebecor media empire.

Despite a sudden change at the top, plans are going ahead without missing a beat for the launch of Sun TV, the right-of-centre news channel sponsored by Pierre Karl Péladeau and his Quebecor media empire.

Kory Teneycke, left, addresses a news conference in Toronto in June to launch the proposed Sun TV News Channel, as Quebecor Media CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau watches. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) )

The headline has been the replacement of former Stephen Harper spin doctor Kory Teneycke by Luc Lavoie at the top of the channel's management structure.

The controversy and speculation over the sudden Teneycke departure have obscured an important point. His replacement by Lavoie adds a certain credibility to the operation, as Sun TV gets ready to appear before the CRTC at a hearing on its licence request in November.

True, he, too, was a prime minister's spin doctor, for Brian Mulroney, in the late 1980s. Lavoie then ventured into a career in public relations, joined Quebecor as a senior executive, recently left the company but stayed connected for the TV project he is now heading.

His added value comes from his experience in those jobs and his career before working for the Mulroney government.

No character assassinations

Obviously with a resume that long, Lavoie is a grown-up. He can be direct, angry, profane. But when he is, it is for effect. No ad hominem, slagging character assassinations on people or rival organizations from him just because it feels good to do it.

The other benefit is that Lavoie has actually worked in television news. In the 1980s, he was an Ottawa correspondent for the TVA network in Ottawa before being recruited by Mulroney.

I enjoyed having an office across the hall from him in the National Press Building in Ottawa. He was a good neighbour. And we worked together when I succeeded him as president of the parliamentary press gallery in 1987.

Luc Lavoie, former spokesman for Brian Mulroney, responds to questions at the Commons ethics committee in Ottawa on Feb. 7, 2008. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

Lavoie will be a presence at the CRTC hearings this November, just as he was as a witness at the parliamentary committee and the Oliphant inquiry into the Schreiber-Mulroney affair in recent years. He was called to appear because he had been Mulroney's spokesman at the time Schreiber began making his damaging allegations.

He will no doubt carry on about choice and diversity and different opinions being heard, all the while fudging on the real reason for the Sun TV bid.

Lavoie knows that as a news gathering organization, Sun TV is no threat to either of the news channels operated by the CBC and CTV.

Those networks have long-established news operations with professional correspondents and state-of-the-art facilities across Canada and in key foreign locations.

Instead, the Sun Network is designed to enlarge and energize the Conservative voting base, and make money while doing it, just like Fox News in the United States.

Remember, Harper and Teneycke met with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes on March 30, 2009, during a trip to New York. A longtime Republican communications guru, Ailes is the president of Fox News Channel, which is owned by Murdoch's News Corp.

And no doubt when it is on the air, one of the first Sun TV headline events will be an "exclusive" interview with the prime minister. I'd expect the interview will seem more like a back rub for Harper than an inquiry.

The prime minister and the Conservative establishment are keen to have Sun TV on the air. But perhaps they should be careful what they wish for.

In the U.S., to keep its conservative Republican Party viewers tuning in and its ratings and its ad revenues up, Fox News has been lavishing coverage on the extreme Tea Party movement and the opinions of right-wing heroine Sarah Palin.

Saddled with extreme candidates

The result for the Republicans has been that in the nomination process for the congressional elections in November, extreme candidates backed by the Tea Party and Palin have become official party candidates.

In fact, in some states like Delaware and West Virginia, the Republicans have been saddled with candidates so extreme that Senate seats they seemed sure to win are now going to fall to the Democrats.

What could this mean in the Canadian context?

Well, in his road to making the Conservatives electorally respectable to many skeptical voters, Harper did a good job of stifling most of the extreme — even radical — voices in his party caucus and beyond. And it worked.

But those actions could come back to haunt the prime minister. If Sun TV gets up and running, some of those voices he was successful in stifling may be coming to a television channel near you.