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View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
View Michelle Rempel Profile
2019-06-03 13:34 [p.28398]
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
The institution of freedom of the press is an underpinning of any democratic nation. It is the principle by which we understand that journalists or those in civil service investigate policy, politicians, and comings and goings, and shed light and perhaps different viewpoints on what is going on in our country. This is in order to ensure that we have the best public policy and work toward equality of economic opportunity. Regardless of political stripe, I hope we all agree that the institution of freedom of the press is very important.
I want to contrast the institution of freedom of the press with something that my colleague just said, which was on the industry of journalism. The institution is different from the industry. The institution of freedom of the press does not imply that somehow someone has to make a profit off of this. What we are talking about today is the state interfering in the industry of the press and whether or not that is appropriate in terms of the ability for the institution in Canada to survive.
In 2013, PwC's report, “Online Global entertainment and media outlook 2013-2017”, predicted that newspaper revenue would drop by 20% by 2017. This was not attributed to a lack of consumer demand for journalism, but was attributed directly to a rise in advertising revenue being shifted from print media to online media. It will be no surprise to anyone in this room, or anyone listening at home, that it is because the way we consume information has changed dramatically in the last several years. Many of us consume information on our phones. We consume information with short video blogs. We consume information from content that it is pushed to our phones.
The industry of journalism in Canada knew, through its own corporate forecasts and reports like this one, that its business model was failing. It begs the question of why the taxpayers of Canada should have to bail out a business model that was failing, which is print journalism. These organizations should have known, as any industry does, that they would have to adapt in order to survive. Anyone who owns a business knows that business models can change. For example, look at taxi companies when Uber came in. When something is disruptive to an industry, one has to adapt or one does not survive.
We are now debating whether the government should be bailing out a failed business model, or a failed industry. Unfortunately, what the government has chosen to do in answer to that question affects the institution of freedom of press. Anyone of any political stripe should be concerned about this. A partisan political actor should not be allocating tax dollars in such a way that it could harm the independence of the institution of free press in Canada.
How does that happen? What the Prime Minister has done is to allocate $600 million, which is a lot of money that could be used for a lot of things, to a select group of industry actors in journalism, based on criteria that the government selects and doles the money out on. If those industry actors are not sympathetic to the government of the time, are they inherently credible in terms of actors in the institution of free press? That is what is at stake here.
Anybody who votes Liberal, Green or NDP should be as comfortable with a Conservative-led government selecting those criteria as they are their own. They would have a very hard time standing here arguing for, let us say, Stephen Harper having control over the Canadian media. If an argument does not work both ways from political strife, then we actually have a big problem. Somebody who votes NDP or Green should have a huge concern.
Let us park, for a second, whether Canadian taxpayers should bail out a failed industry that has failed to transition to digital online. This is really about the credibility of anybody at any journalistic institution who takes money out of this fund and for those who choose not to take funds or who are not eligible to take those funds, whether they will be able to compete with people who now have a partisan interest, and they do have a partisan interest.
The government has appointed Unifor to the panel of people who will select the criteria by which the government doles out the funds. Unifor has a publicly stated, publicly funded campaign against a political party in this place. This weekend on the political talk shows, the leader of Unifor said that he should be on that panel because he had a score to settle. He said that other industry and media had endorsed the Conservatives before and why should he not be able to settle the score.
What we are debating here is which partisan actor is better suited to influence the industry on which the institution of freedom of the press is based in Canada. That is disgusting.
We have had a lot of discussions in this place about foreign influence in our election and fake news. It is the individual responsibility of every Canadian to understand how to critically evaluate information presented as news. There is no way the government can regulate that. Many of the existing actors in Canadian industry have responded to this drop in online content by trying to build their own media platforms and responding with clickbait. We do not have a lot of print journalism that I would constitute as journalism anymore. There is some, but a lot of it is editorialization on both the right and the left. Why would Canadian taxpayers perpetuate a failing industry that has such strong ramifications for Canadian democracy?
I know why the Liberal government is doing this and I know why the NDP supports it. When people control the press, they control people. That is what is happening here. Jerry Dias said that he had a score to settle. People cannot control the press through the state. Let us vigorously debate policy and let us even want to throttle each other over differences in public policy. However, to somehow argue with any sort of a fig leaf that this is anything other than the state controlling the press is shameful.
Columnists who have written about the fact that any journalist who works for an organization that takes money from this fund will have to work ten times harder to be credible are right, and they are brave for saying that.
At the end of the day, this bailout will not save print journalism in Canada. The only way that is saved is if these organizations figure out how to transition to the new digital reality, which many of them have failed to do.
In the strongest possible terms, I oppose any sort of interference in this regard. We need to have a conversation about what the state's role is in funding news writ large in Canada. We need to oppose partisan political actors being involved in the doling out of tax dollars to save an industry on which the institution of freedom of speech in our country is underpinned. I refuse to stand here, partisan hat off, and say as a Conservative that I would be excited about that level of control. No, we should have vigorous debate that challenges dogma, not that perpetuates a monopoly that is controlled by partisan actors. It is wrong and it needs to stop.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Madam Speaker, today we are discussing a proposal by the government that is transparently ridiculous. I think my six-year-old daughter could well understand why it is ridiculous and government members should as well. It is a $600-million government bailout fund for some journalists and media organizations. The distribution of that fund is to be controlled by a committee that includes Jerry Dias and the leadership of Unifor. Unifor's leadership has made it clear that it will use workers' funds for electoral purposes. It will campaign to defeat the Conservatives in the next election and for the re-election of the Liberal government. It calls itself “The resistance” to the Conservatives.
Overtly partisan people are responsible for meting out dollars to journalists; that is for determining who is a journalist and who is not for the purpose of this funding and for determining who gets the money and who does not.
Our contention on this side of the House is that in defence of an independent press, we should not have overtly partisan individuals or entities responsible for meting out funds on the basis, supposedly, of supporting non-partisan journalism. This should be very clear. Having people who are actively involved in campaigning for one particular outcome in the election and also determining who is a journalist for the purposes of receiving funding is outrageous. It is beyond outrageous. I think members across the way would understand this very easily if the shoe were on the other foot.
That is why thus far in this debate members of the government are trying to avoid the real conversation about the real issue by all means necessary. They are making all sorts of other points that do not really address their decision to have partisan mechanisms handing out funding and deciding which journalists get funding.
Government members have talked about the important role that journalists play in our democracy. Of course we strongly agree with that. However, the most important tool that journalists have in their toolbox is a recognition of their credibility. Why do people choose to get their information from credible media organizations as opposed to blogs? Why do people go to nationalpost.com as opposed to liberal.ca to get their media? It is because of credibility. People understand. They hope that when they go to a media organization they trust, they can expect the information to be credible, accurate and non-partisan.
When the government intervenes by determining who gets funding and who does not, it is undermining the perception of credibility in the press by the public. Thus, it makes the job of independent professional journalists that much more difficult. The government is eroding public confidence in the fourth estate and it is doing so for its own interests.
If the government really cares about defending the vital work our independent press does, it should actually listen to what members of the press are saying about the proposal.
Don Martin from CTV says, “The optics of journalism associations and unions deciding who picks the recipients of government aid for journalism are getting very queasy.”
Andrew Coyne says, “It is quite clear now, if it was not already: this is the most serious threat to the independence of the press in this country in decades.”
Jen Gerson from CBC says, “If any of these associations or unions could be trusted to manage this “independent” panel, they would be denouncing it already.”
David Akin says, “I am a Unifor member and had no choice about that when I joined @globalnews. Unifor never consulted its membership prior to this endorsement. Had I been asked, I would have argued it should make no partisan endorsements.” He says “Jerry: I invite you to visit with Unifor members who are also members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I’ll set the meeting up. You will learn first-hand how much damage you are doing to the businesses that employ us, to our credibility and how terribly uninformed you are.”
Chris Selley, from the National Post, says, “Liberals' media bailout puts foxes in charge of the chickens.”
Chantal Hébert says, “Among the ranks of the political columnists, many fear it is a poison pill that will eventually do the news industry more harm than good.”
That is quite a list of intelligent, thoughtful journalists who comment on a range of different issues and who are known and have recognized names in Canadian democracy.
If the government says that its goal is to defend independent journalists like Don Martin, Jen Gerson, Andrew Coyne, David Akin and Chantal Hébert, then maybe it should listen to those independent journalists, because they understand that when the government pursues policies that undermine their perceived credibility in the eyes of the public, it makes it more difficult—not easier, but more difficult—for independent journalists.
Members of the government talk about an independent press. They talk about how having Unifor on a panel that doles out government funds and determines which journalists get the money and which do not, how having overtly partisan mechanisms controlling which journalists get funding and which who do not, is somehow in defence of an independent press. That is very Orwellian. War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength. It is Orwellian to say that government partisans doling out funding arbitrarily to media organizations of their choice is a way to maintain the independence of the press.
Canadians should be concerned about it because journalists are concerned about it. Not only is it a waste of taxpayers' money and not only is the government trying to intervene to stack the deck in its favour for the next election, but it undermines the independence of the press and it creates greater challenges for the press as they try to do their job. It makes it harder for them to fight back against those who are challenging their credibility.
In response to this, Jerry Dias from Unifor said that he is entitled to his free speech. I agree that all Canadians are entitled to free speech, but he is not entitled to use Canadians' tax dollars to promote those particular views.
Further, we expect certain positions in our democracy to be independent. We expect budgets not to be involved in overtly partisan politics. We expect the Clerk of the Privy Council not to be involved in overtly partisan politics—oops—and we expect some of these people to be outside of speaking about elections and parties. We certainly expect that the people responsible for doling out funding to journalists or deciding which organizations get the money would indeed be independent and would be separate from politics.
This is about preserving the independence of our institutions. We on this side of the House stand for preserving the independence of those institutions. It is not good enough to say it; we have to actually leave those institutions alone and not interfere with them. We should not interfere in the independence of our journalists, our public servants, or the functions of our judicial system, which is another problem. There are so many cases of the Liberals not respecting the independence of our institutions and interfering with them, and they are doing it again with respect to independent media.
The government's argument is that Unifor should be represented because it represents journalists. Here are some important numbers: Unifor is a very large union, representing over 300,000 people. There are about 12,000 journalists in that number; less than 5% of the membership are journalists, so this is not an organization that speaks uniquely and exclusively for journalists. In fact, journalists represent a very small part of the overall membership of the organization, so claiming that Jerry Dias can speak particularly for journalists in the context of public policy and advocacy widely misses the mark, especially since we hear so many journalists speaking out against this situation.
This is part of a broader pattern. We see repeatedly by the Liberal government efforts to stack the deck in its favour to undermine the independence of our institutions. We saw this first with the electoral system, when the government wanted to change the electoral system to its advantage and wanted to do it without a referendum. When the consultations came back and were different from what the government wanted, it ordered another round of consultations, again trying to stack the deck. The government tried to change the electoral system to its advantage and it failed. We called the government out on it.
The government also tried to change the Standing Orders of this place. Without the agreement of all parties, it tried to bring in automatic closure, again undermining the role of the opposition in the House of Commons. The government has tried to do this multiple times, but we successfully stood against it.
We called on the government to clamp down on foreign interference in elections; it refused to act on that.
The government has unilaterally acted to control the structure of the leadership debate. It has pushed through other changes to the Canada Elections Act that allow third party groups to massively outspend political parties in the pre-election period. The government did that to stack the deck.
Now again we see, in its efforts to undermine the independence of the media by having overtly partisan people controlling the handouts that are going to media, that the government is again trying to stack the deck in its favour.
The government does not respect the independence of the media. It does not respect the independence of Parliament. It does not respect the independence of the opposition, and that more than anything else is the reason that the Liberal government must be defeated.
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