Shouting From The Rooftops

Is Canada ready for a homegrown version of Fox News, that minaret for America First prejudice?  Is our peaceable dominion parched for a domestic channel of perpetual right-wing complaint?  Is there money just waiting to be made screeching to the converted?

This week, news came that Kory Teneycke, the former attack-dog communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was heading up a bid by Quebecor Media Inc. for a broadcast licence for an unapologetically conservative news and opinion channel.  Also on the team is Luc Lavoie, a former communications director for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mr. Mulroney’s spokesman once he left office and all those allegations about cash-stuffed envelopes started to circulate.

Quebecor is a Canadian communication colossus, the owner of the Sun chain of tabloids, the French-language TVA network, the Vidéotron cable and internet provider, and, among other holdings.  It doesn’t seem the company, headed by Pierre Karl Peladeau, is applying for the broadcast licence out of any ideological ardor.  Rather, profit appears to be the motive: Mr. Teneycke has persuaded Mr. Peladeau that there is an untapped market in English Canada of worked-up right-wingers willing to pay to be harangued.

The very thought of a Canadian Fox News knock-off is enough to give not-so-worked-up citizens the willies.  There’s nothing wrong with different media outlets adopting different political perspectives.  It happens as a matter of course, and it’s perfectly healthy.  The Sun papers from their origins have championed a right-of-centre populism (deep distrust of the nanny state, unswerving support for the police, and a little comely eye candy for the lads on the factory shop floor).  The Globe and Mail is a financially conservative journal that can lean progressive on social issues (same-sex marriage, decriminalization of marijuana).  The Star is openly proud of its liberalism.

No, it’s not that Fox News in the U.S. is a transmitter tower for conservatism that sets Canadian teeth on edge.  It’s not even its bombast.  It’s the channel’s mean-spirited vindictiveness.  Opposing viewpoints are entertained, if at all, not so that they can be debated but so that they can be debased: brayed at, mocked, vilified.  The channel has the none-too-bright persona of the schoolyard bully, personified by one of its signature blowhards, Bill O’Reilly.

Is this what Messrs. Teneycke, Lavoie and Peladeau have in mind?  Me, I’m not convinced that seed will grow in Canadian soil.  Our hard-right conservatives may be zealous, but they stop just shy of being zealots.

Preston Manning was no Ross Perot, and Kory Teneycke is no Roger Ailes, president of Fox News.  Stephen Harper may be a hyper-controlling monomaniac, but next to Dick Cheney he looks like Lester Pearson.  And you may find Ezra Levant wrong-headed, but he’s not wrong in the head.  Glenn Beck, with his bug-eyed mixture of paranoia and delusions of grandeur, is a different kettle of fish entirely.  In the U.S. he has a television show and a messianic following.  In Canada, he would be under observation in the Clarke Institute.

But maybe the hysteria is necessary to making money, because heretofore media outlets in Canada devoted to the plaints of the right have always been in the red.  Alberta Report magazine carried the conservative standard for a while in the 1980s and ‘90s, then ran on little more than the fumes of oil patch alienation, then folded in 2003.  The National Post was founded in 1998 by Conrad Black precisely to give voice to a strain of conservatism Mr. Black found lamentably lacking in Canadian political culture.  Twelve years later, the paper has yet to turn one thin dime of profit.

Of course, the economics of broadcasting are different.  If Quebecor succeeds in persuading the CRTC to grant it a “must carry” licence – ramming the channel down the gullet of cable and satellite providers – its profitability is guaranteed.  If only the CRTC could attach the condition that the channel come with a mandatory counterweight: a Canadian equivalent of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and The Colbert Report, a smart, funny nightly satirical flaying of hyperventilated extremism.  Now that would be a welcome addition to the Canadian

  • Toronto Star June 13, 2010