Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2019-06-03 13:19 [p.28396]
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to today's motion, because it addresses something that I think is an important public policy issue. It is a matter that touches the public interest. At the very least, I think we all agree that having an independent and well-resourced media is an important part of any well-functioning democracy. That is why it has been concerning over the last number of years to see newsrooms closing down and journalists being put out of work because of the revenue challenges among more traditional media.
As much as news is circulating more than ever on social media, social media is not a content generator. It does not write the stories. Fewer and fewer journalists are writing the stories that are being circulated ever and ever wider, but that is not an increase in the amount of quality journalism that is happening; it is just a wider audience for the smaller amount of journalism that is happening.
The lack of funding, or the inability of news organizations to be able to hire journalists to do proper investigative reporting, is a serious problem. I think it is a public interest problem. That is where I disagree with the member for Thornhill, who has said on a number of occasions that, essentially, government should be blind to this problem and not engage with it or that there is no room for some kind of public policy fix. If we simply leave this to the market, what we have seen is that the market is failing to support good journalism. There is a need for a solution. If the market can provide one, so be it. It is just that we are not seeing that, and we are running out of time as more and more newsrooms close down and we have fewer people doing the good work journalists do in Canada.
We in the NDP agree that something needs to be done. We have been calling for that for a long time. Part of our frustration is that this is kind of an 11th-hour solution, if we can call it that. It is an 11th-hour proposal by the Liberal government to finally start, maybe, doing something about a problem that has existed for a long time and that has been allowed to get to a point where it is actually becoming quite serious. To drop it at the end of this Parliament is unfortunate.
We do not all agree on various components of this debate, but the fact that there is so much contention about the solution is evidence that we needed a longer timeline if we wanted to try to find some kind of consensus, or least a meeting of the minds, among the parties in this place. We needed more time to be able to do that. To have the proposal come out just recently, when the end of Parliament is only a few weeks away, really does not bode well for finding a solution that as many political actors as possible could sign on to. That is important.
The NDP has known for a long time that big corporate money has played a role in media, and we have often been on the receiving end of what that means in terms of editorial opinion, the kinds of stories that are covered and the angles of the stories that are covered. We on this side know all about what money means to the media and the frustration of finding people who are ideologically opposed to a point of view and do not want to see it succeed.
We have had a lot of people in the media over the years. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike this year. We have heard lots of stories about the coalition between business leaders and newspapers and what they did to demonize strikers and misrepresent their position. We have seen that carry on through the last 100 years, too.
There are great journalists doing independent work. There has always been the question of money in media. As long as we have a solution on offer, and the government is going to be providing subsidies, the NDP has no objection to workers being at the table. Unifor represents over 12,000 workers in the industry. We know, because we are not outside unions looking in, that Jerry Dias can have his opinion, and Unifor, as a larger union, can have its position when it comes to an election.
Brad Honywill is an established, retired journalist who worked for the Sun Media chain, which, incidentally, is not known for giving the Conservatives an unfair hearing. Members here who have read the work of the Sun Media chain will not feel, if they are giving an honest assessment, that the Sun Media chain does not fairly communicate the views of the Conservative movement of Canada.
That was his career. He can speak on that panel with a sense of independence, as a retired journalist, and that is fine. That is separate from the political activities of the union. It may be that there is some misunderstanding on the part of Conservatives as to how large democratic organizations work. However, to have somebody from Unifor, with a long history and experience in the industry, being named as one member of eight on the panel to make recommendations about what the rules will be, and to further nominate a second independent panel, is not the end of the world.
That does not mean that this is the best model. This has been coming like a slow train wreck for years and years, as my hon. colleague from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert said very well, and I commend him for all the work he has done on this, over years. This has been coming for a long time. As my hon. NDP colleague from Saskatoon pointed out earlier, the reason this is happening is because of a kind of structural issue within the industry. It has to do with the fact that this is an industry that heretofore has been funded through ad revenue. The problem is that ad revenue for traditional media is drying up because it is going to new media. When businesses or any advertisers spend money on ads through Facebook, Google or another Internet company, they are not charged the same tax that they would be if they were advertising in Canadian media. They are not charged the sales tax, the GST. Therefore, these social media platforms already have a number of inherent advantages in terms of their reach and being able to target.
On top of that, government policy offers further incentive to advertise with those companies by helping to make it cheaper by not applying a sales tax. Those who advertise in Canadian print publications can write off their taxable revenue as a business, but they cannot do that if they are advertising in print in U.S. or international publications. However, when it comes to the Internet, even though Facebook and Google are American-based companies, they are treated as Canadian companies. Therefore, Canadian advertisers are able to get the same tax advantage for advertising with Facebook and Google as they are in Canadian print publications.
Those are two taxation measures that incentivize advertising with foreign-based advertisers as opposed to Canadian publications. That is at the root of the crisis of revenue that is causing newsrooms to shut down or to lay off journalists and run on a skeleton crew. What is odd about this proposal is that it does not cut to the core of the structural incentives that government policies have created to advertise with non-Canadian advertisers online. Why would the government come up with a band-aid solution when there are clear structural issues? There are recommendations from a number of different parliamentary committees and other independent groups that name that problem, so why the Liberal government would not be concerned with addressing the structural issue rather than slapping a Band-Aid on it is anyone's guess.
I have not been here for as long as some, but it is coming up on four years. What I have seen, when it comes to pharmacare, for instance, is that there are clear proposals for how to move forward, such as expanding coverage for Canadians to save billions of dollars every year, and Liberals are not prepared to do it. Why is that? It is because that would hurt the corporate profits of their buddies.
When we look at climate change and some of the real things that need to happen to effectively combat climate change from the Canadian perspective, we run up against the Liberals' desire to protect the profits of the oil and gas industry. They continue to offer subsidies. They bought an old pipeline. They did not build a new one, but spent $4.5 billion on an existing pipeline to pay out Kinder Morgan's shareholders, because that was consistent with protecting the profits of their corporate friends.
We again have a model where, instead of allowing new media start-ups to be eligible for this funding, because a lot of people are interested in that, this is a program that favours the established print industry. It did not have to be that way. That was a decision that the Liberals made, once again, no coincidence, and that benefits established corporate interest over everyone else. There is definitely a pattern. Unfortunately, it has had an influence on this. They waited too long to present a real solution, so we are finding it hard to find agreement before the next election. That is unfortunate if it causes Canadians to feel less trustful of journalism during an election.
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