The absolute last thing this country needs

Don Newman on Kory Teneycke and his goofy dream of a right-wing, all-news channel.

The first time I met Kory Teneycke, he told me that Canada needed a Fox News channel of its own.

I impolitely told him what he could do with the idea and we didn't speak again for four years.

Our unlikely meeting place was the federal Liberal party convention in Toronto in November 2003, where, amid waves of Grit acrimony, Paul Martin succeeded Jean Chrétien as party leader.

I say unlikely because, while I had been at the convention all week as a reporter, Teneycke had just returned from Saskatchewan where he had been working for the right-wing Saskatchewan Party in its losing campaign against the then NDP government.

A mutual friend brought him to the convention and made the introduction.

Obviously we didn't click.

Kory Teneycke, newly-appointed vice-president of business development at Quebecor Media, leaves the National Press Building in Ottawa on Thursday June 10, 2010. Quebecor is hoping to start a 24-hour right-wing cable channel, which Teneycke is spearheading. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In 2008, Teneycke became Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications and during his time in that role, and since, I have found him professional and affable.

Obviously, he is determined, too. The Fox News concept that he was lamenting the lack of six and a half years ago, he is now trying to launch.

Merger mania

What is also interesting about these plans — which are being backed by Quebecor, the Quebec media giant controlled by Pierre Karl Peladeau — is that they were unveiled at the same time as the stories about the so-called merger talks between the Liberals and the NDP.

This story seems to surface semi-regularly these days, ever since that almost coalition between Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton right after the 2008 election.

Remember, that deal was made, with the blessing of the Bloc Quebecois, after Harper attempted to bankrupt the opposition parties by cutting off all their public funding.

Sometimes, when the merger story pops up, it is never entirely clear whether it originates with the Conservatives, who can use it to attack the Liberals.

Or with the Liberals, who are either (a) generally convinced they will never recapture government on their own, or (b) just playing another round in that never-ending game of destabilizing their leader.

This time, though, the source has gone public. It is Warren Kinsella, a sometimes Liberal insider and election strategist who is also a sometimes Liberal outsider, at war with other factions in the party.

Nervous Nellies

As the story goes, it is the so-called party saints in both camps who are pushing the idea of a merger of the centre-left.

The NDP saints are said to be former leader Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. The Liberal saint, a friend of both these NDP stalwarts, is said to be former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

Interestingly, Chrétien once blasted the "nervous Nellies" in his own caucus in 1993, when for a while it looked as if Brian Mulroney's successor, the untried Kim Campbell was going to keep the Tories in power.

Now, it sounds as if Chrétien may have a case of the "nervous Nellies" himself.

Because only those who qualify for party sainthood are associated with what may or may not be going on, it was easy for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton to deny anything was afoot.

Kinsella responded with an affidavit to back up his story. His own affidavit.

Things were getting so silly that I half expected another document claiming that the real Liberal and NDP saints, Lester Pearson and Tommy Douglas, also wanted a merger.

Way too polarizing

The reality, of course, is that a merger doesn't make any sense. Except in a few ridings, most of the seats the NDP holds are seats where the Liberals are the major competition.

Certainly in Toronto and Northern Ontario, it is the Liberals and NDP that are fighting each other. Merging the parties wouldn't gain them an extra seat in either place. 

Then there is the fact that, outside the urban core, where the NDP are not much of a force, the Liberals wouldn't gain much by being seen to be associated with the "socialists," as the Conservatives would certainly portray any merged party.

In those areas, a merger could well drive away some of those Liberal swing voters and make them hard-core Tories.

All of which, as he plans his new right-wing "news" channel, must be making Kory Teneycke's mouth water.

In the U.S., Fox News has been hugely polarizing. It specializes in drive-by attacks and misrepresentations, and is positively Orwellian at times, claiming to be "fair and balanced" while implying that its competitors aren't.

The reality is that it mainly spews out propaganda that is dangerously misleading and often factually wrong.

The parts that aren't wrong are, in some ways, just as dangerous, since they tend to make people comfortable in their prejudices.

Today, many Conservatives probably think a Fox News North, propaganda channel will help their political cause.

While many Liberals and New Democrats may think that the prospect of just such a creature makes it all that much more important to join forces.

I doubt either are right.   In fact, the Harper Conservatives have been able to stay in power, albeit with minorities, because in office they are generally less ideological than they were in opposition.

Do they really need a right-wing news channel urging them to be more rabid and stirring up the party's hard-core base, which would only make some Conservative MPs less easy for the PM to control.

And if the Liberals get spooked into a more polarizing posture, they, too, will probably only damage themselves by constantly reacting to anger, emotion and bombast.

In 2003, Kory Teneycke thought that Canada needed a Fox News and hasn't changed his mind.

In 2003, I thought he was wrong and told him so. I am telling him again.