Canada has a history of larger-than-life media barons. New Brunswick's Max Aitken parlayed his newspaper clout into a seat at the British cabinet table during the First and Second World Wars.
Roy Thomson turned his job selling radios door to door in the 1930s into what was for a while the world's largest newspaper and publishing empire and left his descendants Canada's richest family.
More recently, Conrad Black wheeled and dealt his way to the top of the global media heap before getting caught on security camera smuggling out documents related to a corporate fraud case and has now served more than two years of a six-year sentence in a Florida prison (and toasting a recent U.S. Supreme Court appeal victory which may soon free him).
Paul Desmarais started with a floundering bus company in Sudbury, Ontario, and built the Power Corporation colossus that includes major newspaper holdings as the lesser component of a vast global financial services conglomerate. He remains the richest and most influential francophone businessman Canada has ever produced.
Now, there's a new baron on the Canadian media block, although one who shares little of the background of his fellow kingpins, except perhaps the sweeping ambition. His name is Pierre-Karl Peladeau — PKP in business and media circles — and his latest project is to bring a conservative viewpoint to the TV screens of Canada, teasingly known as Fox News North. It's a venture that's causing a stir in English Canada, a reaction that probably would have pleased his controversy-loving daddy.
PKP is president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., and the best-known son of Pierre Peladeau, who, as a restless Montreal lawyer, got his start in the newspaper trade in the 1950s by publishing a flashy tabloid filled with his formula of "sports, sex and blood."
By the time Peladeau père died in 1997, he had expanded his cheeky paper into a major printing and publishing concern and had branched out into electronic media. Despite a few failures — a paper in Philadelphia, and an English-language tabloid in Montreal, where (full disclosure) I was part of the editorial crew — the parent company, prophetically named Quebecor, grew exponentially and became the darling of Quebec government investment vehicles.
PKP, a bit of a rebel as a youth, eventually got the old man's mojo for running a media empire and, as his unchallenged successor, has taken Quebecor to heights Pierre senior might not have imagined. Those heights include: major daily and weekly newspapers in Quebec and across Canada, the country's third-largest cable TV company, the largest private French-language TV station in Canada, market-leading Internet, telephone and mobile phone services, numerous book and music publishing and retailing outfits, and Quebec's largest video-rental chain.
Then last week, one-time anti-establishment man Peladeau confirmed the rumors of "Fox News North" that had been circulating for weeks. Sun TV News would transform Quebecor's existing Toronto-based TV channel into a national voice for conservatism in Canada. For proof of that, one need look no further than the man Peladeau picked to run it, Kory Teneycke, a former communications handler for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Teneycke, with Peladeau by his side, announced that "(w)e're taking on smug, condescending, often irrelevant journalism. We're taking on political correctness. We will not be a state broadcaster offering boring news by bureaucrats, for elites, and paid for by taxpayers. We'll be unapologetically patriotic."
While Sun TV News still has to go through some serious regulatory hoops before it appears on any cable network, initial reaction has been interesting. One media analyst says the conservative channel would be a much-needed "corrective" to a Canadian media that he concludes has a quantifiable leftward tilt. David Haskell cites research that shows "when it comes to reporting on issues connected to social values, Canada's national journalists regularly 'slant' their coverage in order to privilege liberal views over socially conservative perspectives."
Over at the Globe and Mail, a conservative-leaning paper, columnist Margaret Wente argues that unlike the U.S., where political views are "poisonously partisan," in Canada "it's sometimes hard to tell who's left or right of whom on what."
Of course, the bottom line of Sun TV News is indeed the bottom line and the money-making potential of an alternative all-news cable channel. While his father was always cagey about his political views — he declared himself ambivalent on Quebec separatism — PKP seems to be betting that outspoken conservatism can be profitable in Canada.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer.