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'Fox News North' furor puts Harper in Hollywood spotlight

1. Rave reviews. Stephen Harper gets his name in lights in the Hollywood Reporter over his involvement in the so-called Fox News North controversy.

"Canuck prime minister in Sun TV News Furor" is the headline in Monday's edition of the industry newspaper. This, as the online debate between Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood grows with Industry Minister Tony Clement now weighing in.

The brouhaha is over the bid by Quebecor for a broadcast license for its right-wing 24-hour news channel, Sun TV.

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"The media furor over Fox News North has received new fuel from news that Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper lunched in New York City with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and Fox News president Roger Ailes," Etan Viessing wrote in the Hollywood Reporter.

The lunch, which took place in March on 2009 and was reported by The Canadian Press, also included Kory Teneycke. Then Mr. Harper's former communications director, he is now the executive behind Quebecor's push for Sun TV.

The article quotes an editorial in the "right-leaning" Calgary Herald that argues the lunch may look "odd" but there is no proof that "Harper is engaged in a politically motivated drive to bring a 'Fox News North' to Canada with Kory Teneycke as its head."

That is countered by a column in the Toronto Star (or the "liberal Toronto Star", according to the Hollywood Reporter) that maintains the media is already quite right-wing. "A Fox-style network here - if Harper gets his way - would turn that into a deafening cacophony," Linda McQuaig writes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Atwood is continuing to express her concerns over speculation the Harper government could punish CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein because he refused Sun TV's initial license bid. (There is another hearing scheduled for Nov. 19.)

Ms. Atwood's decision to sign a petition protesting Sun TV - which has every right-wing pundit in the country jumping all over her - was motivated not by her wanting to silence the proposed network but rather her concern over what she sees as a pattern by Mr. Harper of silencing his public-service critics.

"Will CRTC head's head roll to get Sun licence? That's my concern," Ms. Atwood wrote on Twitter Monday night.

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This drew the Industry Minister into the debate between Ms. Atwood and her detractors. "At this rate of reading @MargaretAtwood's multitudinous tweets," Mr. Clement said, "I'll get outta my CanLit quota for the next 8 yrs!"

He also suggested that Ms. Atwood and her detractors deserve "a big hug and a large cup of cocoa."

2. 'He's an avid hockey fan.' Much is being made over a proposal to build a $400-million, taxpayer-financed hockey arena in Quebec. Without the arena, the city's bid for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and an NHL franchise would likely be moot.

The question is whether Stephen Harper and his government will pony up the funds, in the midst of their vow of parsimony, to support Quebec and potentially attract some much-needed voter support in that province?

A recent EKOS poll suggests the Tories would hold on to only one seat in the province were an election held today. They now have 11.

It's a tricky political question. Michael Ignatieff's Liberals have accused Mr. Harper of having already written off Quebec as it no longer holds the key to a majority government. The Bloc is just too strong in the 75-seat jurisdiction.

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But Premier Jean Charest, Quebec City's mayor and the Bloc Quebecois are putting pressure on the federal government for arena funding.

A senior PMO official would only allow this cryptic comment Tuesday morning: "The Prime Minister would love to see the Nordiques return to Quebec City, after all he's an avid hockey fan."

The official added: "We will evaluate the proposal seriously."

EKOS pollster Frank Graves, meanwhile, says the government should be evaluating two big questions.

"Would it be enough to jump start a pretty moribund Tory outlook in Quebec (around 10 points)?" he asks.

"Secondly, there is always the potential downside; not just in Quebec but with the bread-not-circuses vote and those who would find this a little too crass even in this era of retail politics."

As well, he notes, there are NHL fans in places like Hamilton and Winnipeg lusting for professional hockey in their hometowns. "Would they applaud or be resentful to see their tax dollars accelerating another city's capture of an elusive and scarce franchise?"

Although this is difficult to judge without polling data, Mr. Graves adds it might just be time for Mr. Harper "to pull out the old Hail Mary play book in Quebec (to borrow a metaphor from another sport)."

He adds: "Given their current prospects this might be a good play (albeit highly risky)."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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