COLUMN: Liberal government ignores even its own MPs on supporting Canadian news

With nice words and platitudes, they rejected everything that the Heritage committee recommended

The federal Liberal government has ignored its own Members of Parliament – again.

Anyone following the furor over proposed changes to small business taxes won’t be surprised by this.

But it was disappointing nonetheless to see how Liberal cabinet ministers responded this week to a report done on local news by the House of Commons committee on Canadian Heritage.

MPs on the committee spent 15 months studying what is happening in the rapidly changing news media landscape. They met 44 times and heard from 131 witnesses. Liberals and New Democrats issued a majority report in June that said steps must be taken to help news media navigate this tumultuous period.

Their conclusion: “Given the media’s importance as a reflection of Canada’s diversity and a pillar of our democracy, the government of Canada must implement the necessary measures to support the existence of a free and independent media and local news reporting.”

The government is required to respond to such reports. This week the response came from Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

With nice words and platitudes, they politely rejected pretty much everything that the Heritage committee recommended.

They said the federal government is already doing lots to help local news media survive, innovate and transform.

This is laughable.

The ministers said the government is ensuring a vibrant, local and reliable news media ecosystem is a pillar of democracy with its Canada Periodical Fund. This is a $75 million program that mostly subsidizes printed magazines and provides some money for paid, printed community papers, especially those catering to ethnic and specialty audiences. It is not open to daily newspapers that still provide the base of the news media ecosystem in cities across Canada.

The ministers point to the business innovation component of the Periodical Fund as a way to encourage innovation to adapt to changing market conditions. This part of the program spends $1.5 million per year. For the whole country.

The ministers have no answer to the Heritage committee’s concerns that foreign news aggregators – like Google and Facebook – don’t have the same tax obligations as Canadian providers.

For example, a business placing an ad with a Canadian newspaper or TV station cannot deduct the expense if the media outlet is foreign-owned. Yet the same business can place ads on foreign-owned digital platforms aimed primarily at Canadian market and deduct the costs.

All the ministers say is that the digital economy poses challenges for tax systems in all jurisdictions and the Finance department is examining the issue.

Another Heritage committee recommendation to help news media is to allow the creation of charitable foundations to support journalism. People could get a tax deduction for donating to this cause. There could be PBS-like campaigns to raise money for news outlets.

The ministers say “it is not clear that amending the Income Tax Act to include not-for-profit media organizations and foundations as charities would be an effective way of supporting the not-for-profit media.”

This is an incredible statement. It suggests that charitable status is not an effective way of supporting not-for-profit organizations. In fact, it is the only effective way of surviving for many non-profits, which is why there are 86,000 charities in Canada.

The ministers also contradict themselves. They say charitable status is for purposes recognized as beneficial to the public. They also say in the letter that the government “recognizes the important role media and journalism play in Canadian society and more specifically their role as fundamental pillars of our democratic process.”

So news media are fundamental to democracy, but not beneficial enough to the public to have charitable status.

The ministers go on to say, essentially, that the government has put enough money into the system, into areas such as the CBC, to ensure the health of local news coverage.

The whole response amounts to a careful, bureaucratic rejection of any change in what the government is doing – which is next to nothing – on what the majority of MPs on the Heritage committee determined was a serious and urgent problem.

I testified before the Heritage committee, hoping that their work would bring greater attention to the issue and lead to action.

I was wrong.

– Bob Cox

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

After testing, Island Health deems water safe around industrial fire site

Concerns about water quality arose after Sept. 10-11 fire at Schnitzer facility in Cassidy

Ladysmith Downtown Public Washroom project a semi-finalist for FortisBC grant

If successful, the project will gain $15,000 in funding from FortisBC

Council sets February 2021 as kick off for engagement on Official Community Plan

The scope of the OCP will be ‘comprehensive and new’

Trail proposed to connect Cedar and Yellow Point

The Yellow Point Ecological Society, (YES) is proposing a 22km multi-use trail… Continue reading

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Body discovered floating in water near Lasqueti Island

JRCC reports personnel aboard fishing vessel made the find

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Most Read