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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.
View Adam Vaughan Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Adam Vaughan Profile
2019-06-03 16:50 [p.28432]
Mr. Speaker, on this particular day, I would like to pay a bit of respect to the commission on missing and murdered indigenous women and the important work it did in reporting out today, particularly in the area of housing and the way in which we move people in Canada and public transportation. This issue is one that I am sure all members of the House are seized with. In my role working on the housing file, I understand the importance of making sure that this part of the recommendations gets fulfilled.
In terms of the missing and murdered indigenous women commission, it is also important to note that one of the reasons we know so much about this issue is the indigenous journalists in this country. If it were not for the voices of independent indigenous journalists screaming at us to pay attention, the voices of victims may never have reached Parliament Hill. For those brave journalists who stood by their sisters, mothers, aunties and cousins, I want to thank them for the role they played. That underscores why supporting independent journalism, community-based journalism, is so profoundly important.
We all live in a media environment where some of the loudest voices in Canada, and the names have been quoted today endlessly, are often heard in debate on the floor of the House of Commons. However, some of the most important journalism in the country is done by some of the smallest and most independent of journalistic voices. In fact, those are the ones most at risk in the current media environment. They are the ones who have come to us and asked for us to deliver the work we are now speaking about.
I emerged from that community of journalists. My first job as a journalist was at the community-based radio station CKLN in Toronto. If it had not been for the ability of that station to give someone who had no training a break, I would not have made my way from there to Citytv, from there to CBC and then back again to Citytv and CP24 as a journalist. I would never have worked for The Star and the Globe. I would never have made it into some of the other broadcast organizations that I have.
The survival of community-based journalism is at the heart of what I am speaking to today. My riding is home to CBC headquarters, CTV News in Toronto, Corus Entertainment and The Toronto Star. The city of Toronto has a GDP of $330 million. To put that in context, Alberta has a GDP of $331 million. In Toronto, digital media is the second-largest employer. In the cultural sector, that is a critical sector of workers who live in my riding, find work in my riding and are attached to those news organizations. I have a responsibility to those workers, not just as former colleagues or members of my own family. My sister is a journalist, and many other members of my family, including my father, were also journalists.
I grew up in the industry and watched it change over the last 30 years. Quite frankly, it scares me. The camera guys I used to work with, their shoulders are breaking down, and their backs as well. When I walk out into a scrum, I can see four or five former colleagues working for different stations on short-term contracts. Those are people whom I shared the birth of their first child with or went through the death of parents with. They are not just the writers whose names are being quoted here.
Journalists and media corporations in this country hire people through the entire workplace, from the receptionist to the people who clean up the coffee cups when the newsroom has gone to bed. It is the editors, and it is the writers. Yes, it is the people whose names get put on the by-lines, but there are hundreds, thousands, in fact tens of thousands of people in this country whose jobs depend on having a strong and independent media. It is not just the large organizations in the large cities.
When a small newspaper is pulled out of a small town, so much disappears when that newspaper goes quiet. So much disappears when a radio station stops producing independent news or putting the voice of new journalists on the air. We have to be smart about this and sensitive to it, because this is not about the profession and the ethics of journalism; it is about the health of media in this country. The health of media in this country has never been more fragile and threatened by more forces, and we have never seen so many journals, radio stations and small TV stations disappear.
The other side referred to them as “fossils” and said to get with it and that technology is changing. So many of these independent newspapers are small family-run businesses. If we replaced media with the family farm, and if we were to establish an advisory panel in the federal government to decide which family farm sectors were to survive or not, and if we did not appoint family farmers to it, the Conservatives would be the first to scream at us, as they should. If we were to make oil policy in this country and not put oil workers on the panel, the Conservatives would be the first ones screaming at us.
Unifor represents 12,000 people, and most of them have ordinary jobs, doing good work for good pay with good benefits because of the union. That is whom Unifor represents, as much as any of the opinion leaders who have been quoted in the debate. Those people deserve a voice in this process, and I will stand here and defend those people, because my career would have disappeared without them.
From the day I started working in the media, my father took me aside and told me that I have to respect every single part of the production chain, because otherwise it will fail. I took that to heart, and I still take it to heart. When I walk through some of those newsrooms, I see faces of fear there, as the layoffs cascade through year after year, month after month.
We have a responsibility to all Canadian workers. A receptionist in a newsroom is no different from a receptionist at an oil company or a feedlot. Every single person deserves the support of the Canadian government to make sure livelihoods and communities are protected.
What have we done? I am listening to this debate as someone who has spent most of his life as a working journalist, and from what I hear, one would think the government is paying for content. That is just nonsense. Canadians need to know that no part of the measures we introduced would mean paying for content.
There are three major parts. First, we would allow small community foundations and news organizations to set themselves up as charities so that Canadians can choose for themselves whom to donate to. These charities could then protect and create a foundation to protect independent journalism. We do not choose which charities get donations. That is for Canadians to decide. All we decide is which news organizations should qualify as charities.
That is important, because now there are fake news organizations parading as if they were news organizations, even though they have not come close to following the ethics of journalism once in their entire lifetime. This would allow the industry to enrol industry members that want to partake in this. If they want to sustain their independence and not partake in the program, that is their business. However, it is good to have a group of independent journalists look at an organization to see whether it is hiring journalists from the profession and has a footprint in the community it claims to represent.
Second, there would be a tax break for hiring. As with any industry that is in trouble, it is normal to provide tax breaks to organizations that are hiring working journalists. It is to ensure that we do not put money in the front door while some hedge fund in New York takes money out the back door. We saw this with the National Post. It came to the Hill and cried poor, laying off a bunch of people, and then all of its senior executives got massive bonuses while Canadians went unemployed.
We need to make sure that if we put money into this industry, we build employment and hard-working Canadians do not lose their jobs as money from the federal government simply gets filtered through to a hedge fund in New York. I think that is critically important.
The final piece is a tax break for subscriptions. Canadians would choose where to put their money, not us. They would be able to write off their subscriptions, especially e-subscriptions, so that the flow of money into the bank accounts of independent journalists is sustained. Again, Canadians would choose which newspapers get their donations and which newspapers they subscribe to. The federal government is simply setting up a mechanism to incentivize that process so that we can provide some stability to the industry.
As for Unifor, there is this notion that a Toronto Sun writer who will be representing Unifor is somehow going to be beholden to this government because that person gets to choose someone who chooses someone who chooses someone. It is so arm's length that it is perhaps an arm and a leg's length. The idea that a Toronto Sun writer could be bought is a joke.
Every journalist I have ever worked with would say that this is a joke. The mere fact that the Conservatives have quoted journalist after journalist saying, “We will not be bought” tells us exactly how protected that principle in the journalistic field is. No one is going to be bought because someone has made a donation to a charitable foundation. That is just ridiculous. In many ways, it casts a view or a perspective on journalists that would only come from a party that thinks, despite getting three-quarters of the recommendations from editorial boards last year, that there is still a Liberal bias in the media. It is absurd.
The reality is that professional journalists are just that: professional journalists. I can assure members that they are skeptical of everybody, equally.
This is about workers and we need to keep that central in everything we talk about here. This is a sector of the economy, a very large sector in my riding and in different communities, that needs to be protected and needs support.
As I said, members should look at their speech, cross out media and put in the family farm and tell me if they would say anything like that about the family farms in their communities. They would not. They have no hesitation with the family farm and agricultural boards. They have no hesitation understanding there needs to be tax credits for the family farm. They have no worry about ensuring the family farm is represented inside trade agreements. We do not tell the family farm whether to raise chickens, or to ranch cattle or to produce eggs. Those choices will be made by the family farms in the same way the media will make its decisions about journalistic integrity. Journalists have integrity. It is bred into the profession.
I will end by telling a story of exactly how I came to experience the true face of the Conservative Party as it relates to journalistic independence.
I covered city hall mostly. I covered Queen's Park quite a bit. I was also sent to Ottawa quite often in the last six years of my being a political journalist, when Mr. Harper was just starting out as the prime minister. I used to cover the issues from the Toronto perspective, the same way I speak from the Toronto perspective as an MP.
I remember covering a nomination announcement in the riding of St. Paul's, at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. I made reference to the member for Thornhill earlier today when I thanked him for the donation he made to my campaign when I first started to run. He claimed that I went off the rails. I would say I ended up just where I needed to be, but will beg to differ on the outcome of his donation. My residents thank him for his support and clearly have sent me to Ottawa a couple of times now as a result of it.
I was at the nomination battle when that member first entered politics. He decided he would run for the Conservative Party in the riding of St. Paul's. The prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper, showed up to celebrate the acquisition of a star candidate for the Conservative Party. I was not happy that Stephen Harper refused to talk about housing every time he came to Toronto, despite the fact we were in the midst of a housing crisis then. Even then I was demanding the national government have a federal housing policy and even then that issue needed to be pressed much more forcefully in the House of Commons.
I interrupted the scrum that he was holding and asked the question. I was told that was a local matter and not to ask those sorts of questions. Then I tried to scrum him on his way out of the hall and to ask him why the federal Conservative Party did not have a national housing strategy. At that point, somebody grabbed me from behind, by the scruff of my neck, and literally yanked me out of the scrum almost to the floor. I almost turned around and clocked the individual with my microphone, but I did not. Who was it? It was Harper's press secretary. This was quite an event. The cameraman had to hold me back. I was furious. I had never been dealt with physically in a scrum in my life, and I had been in scrums with everybody.
The most interesting thing was what happened the next day. Unbeknownst to the Conservatives, I was sent to Ottawa to cover a minority Parliament that was having trouble staying alive. I walked into the news bureau where I worked and lo and behold there was Harper's press secretary standing in the office in which I had a desk. I was the senior political correspondent with CHUM CityNews at the time. He was barking at my two colleagues, threatening they would never get another question again if a certain reporter in Toronto showed up and asked the leader of the Conservative Party a question. He was screaming that if they did not get rid of that reporter, they would never get a question, Citytv would never get a question and they would be ignored. He said that the party would do everything it could until it got rid of that reporter.
That is the Conservatives' attitude toward independent media. When they do not get an article they like or when they get asked a question they do not like, they do not just sit there and take it like adults. They go after people with everything they have. They threaten lawsuits, and I could talk to the House about Julian Fantino. They threaten one's job, and I could talk to the House about Paul Godfrey and Mel Lastman.
However, what the Conservatives really do not like is an independent journalist sticking up for the local community, asking the questions that members of that community need to have answered by a federal government. When journalists do that, the Conservatives do not just threaten them, they threaten their entire news organization.
That is the attitude of the Conservative Party when the lights are down and in the backrooms of the press gallery in Parliament. The Conservatives will go out of their way to silence the voice of independent journalists time and time again.
The Conservatives pretend to stand here on the Unifor file. What has them worried is that Unifor does not like them. What they do not understand is that Unifor has no more sway with journalists they represent in the editorial rooms and the papers, the television stations and the radio stations. Unifor never walks into those newsrooms or those story rooms and dictates what is going to happen anymore than the teacher's pension fund, which used to own the Toronto Sun, would tell Paul Godfrey, or Sue-Ann Levy, or David Aiken when he worked there, or Brian Lilley when he worked there, or Ezra Levant when he worked there or Faith Goldy when she worked there. None of them was ever dictated to by the teachers' pension fund and they certainly have not been endorsed by Unifor.
Nonetheless, Unifor in participating in this process to ensure that all workers inside the media, not just journalists but everybody employed at all news organizations right across the country from coast to coast to coast, have a fair shake and a fair go of it. The bill is about that. Defending journalism is about that. It is about more than just talking about the writers. It is talking about every person who draws a paycheque, who supports a family and who spends dollars at the corner store, just like we do when we go to our home communities.
The bill is attempting to do that. That is why the bill is so critical. I am very proud to stand with a government that understands journalists cannot be bought, but media can be supported. We will support the media organizations across the country even when they criticize us. Unlike the Conservative Party, we are not afraid of them.
View Tom Kmiec Profile
CPC (AB)
View Tom Kmiec Profile
2019-06-03 17:31 [p.28439]
Mr. Speaker, I hear the member for Kingston and the Islands chirping away at me. I know he will not like the rest of what I have to say about the government's media bailout. He will not appreciate it, but he can always ask me questions afterward.
This motion started with two former journalists on the Conservative side speaking to it, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent and the member for Thornhill. They are both exceptional journalists who have had long careers in the media and know what they are talking about. They are veterans of journalism. We always say within our caucus that the member for Thornhill has some of the most interesting life stories we will ever hear. I encourage any member in this House to ask him about the stories of his journalistic exploits and the situations he found himself in when he would follow them wherever they would go.
What we are talking about today is a media bailout the government is pushing through for large media organizations. There are three components to it: the labour tax credit, the digital new subscription tax credit and a qualified donee measure. Those three measures form this media bailout.
The media bailout is embedded within the omnibus budget bill. Other members have mentioned that the government promised not to present omnibus bills, and actually, in the throne speech, the government said it would never do it again. It could have brought this measure as a separate bill in order for it to have a full discussion and then go to the appropriate committees for a review.
I have read the bill. I remember the debate at the finance committee with officials and asking questions to the officials. When the member for Bow River said it would not apply to the weeklies and dailies in a community because they are owner-operated and the editor is heavily involved in the operations, that is exactly right. I asked that question of the officials. They meandered around it and said that for owners, this only applies to two-plus full-time journalists. That is how it works. The criterion is in section 43. It is written right into the law. Therefore, if owner-operators hire some students during the summer months as contractors, they are not eligible for this particular media bailout.
We asked the officials who this would apply to. We quickly found out it would exclude anybody who in previous tax years had applied for the periodical fund. Therefore, Maclean's, Chatelaine and other magazines would be excluded.
Then we asked what would happen to an agricultural newspaper in my area if half of the newspaper was devoted to agriculture. Well, that would not qualify either, because as I found out from the officials at committee, it would have to cover current events. I asked what “current events” means within the law. They pointed me to subsection 248(1) of the act, which states it “must be primarily focused on matters of general interest or reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes.” Those are the criteria.
During the debate I heard members across the way say the decision has not been made. However, there are criteria already included, and if a journalistic organization does not qualify, it is excluded from all three measures. That is the way the law is written.
Maybe our Liberal government caucus members do not like that fact, but that is the way the law is written and how it will apply. Unless the publication is basically covering politicians in some way, it will not be eligible for any cash. Therefore, this broad dragnet that the officials initially said would be the case is not the case. It is a very small, select group of people who will be eligible for it.
The motion before the House today is one of the primary worries we have on the Conservative side. The Liberals, by appointing a Unifor representative to the board of this panel, have made it partisan. Unifor has openly said it will campaign against one of Canada's large registered political parties. It posted it on social media accounts. It is happy to do it. It calls itself the “resistance”. There is no way around this.
The government has made everybody's participation on this board a partisan affair, because they are now participating actively in the electoral outcome of October 21. The government cannot say this panel is independent, as the panel is appointed by the government. It cannot say this Parliament is completely non-partisan, because Unifor is on the panel.
That simply cannot continue. We cannot have a situation of a national organization that represents some journalists as well as a great deal of other workers actively working against one of Canada's registered political parties as well as participating in deciding who will get access to these three measures I just talked about that form the media bailout.
We have repeatedly heard members on the Liberal side say things that were maybe partially correct in the best of light. I heard one member say that maybe bloggers could be eligible, and I actually asked the question, but bloggers are not eligible. I asked if The Post Millennial, which is a purely online web news site, would be eligible. They did not know whether it would be eligible.
There is a great Yiddish proverb that says “What you don't see with your eyes, don't say with your tongue.” It is a fanciful way of saying that if it is not the truth that we read, do not say it.
At the finance committee, I asked all of these questions because I wanted to better understand which organizations would actually be eligible for this tax credit. They were very quick to say that they did not have all answers, because some of the criteria are set in law and some of the criteria will be up to the panel to determine.
We now know that this panel would be tainted by the participation of Unifor. It is the perception that matters. It is the perception that journalists could be bent by the ownership or by the eligibility for certain criteria. We would be subsidizing journalists directly, because there is a labour tax credit of up to $55,000 by which a salary could be offset. It works out to about $13,750 at the end of the day for an employee. It is a direct subsidy for an employee.
The panel is going to decide who qualifies as a Canadian journalist. I can think of no worse thing for independent, autonomous journalism in this country than to have the perception that perhaps their reporting will be tainted one way or another on the type of content they choose to report.
I do not have a problem with journalists writing tough stories. I do not have a problem with them misquoting me. I do not have a problem with them not coming to me or not following a lead I think is worth following. I do not have a problem with it. They are independent and autonomous and can do whatever they want. That is up to them. Hopefully they will find a readership who is willing to read what they have to offer. I like to read the National Observer. It is kind of left-leaning, one could say, but it provides a lot of content that I actually like using, and so I am fine with it. However, I do not know if the National Observer would be eligible for this measure. Everything outside of current events would be excluded. If a publication covers too much sport or too much entertainment news, it would be excluded. All of those decisions the panel would get to decide.
This is the only tax credit measure I can find that the CRA does not administer directly. It will be administered indirectly by this panel. I hear all these Liberal government caucus members say that it will be the panel that will decide. As soon as one qualifies, it would be eligible for these other things.
Why not just let the CRA do it? It does the disability tax credit. It decides at the end of the day who is eligible for it. It decides for the child expenses. Why is the CRA not going to be administering the law? There is a lot of leeway provided in the law as well, but I am just wondering why the CRA is not deciding, from A to Z, the whole thing. Would that not be the more transparent, non-partisan, completely opaque, arm's-length but within arm's reach way of doing this, as opposed to having a panel with Unifor on it after Unifor has explicitly said that it is going to be devoted from now until October 21 to the defeat of one of Canada's registered political parties?
For Unifor to participate in the determination of who qualifies as a journalistic organization and qualifies through those three measures I mentioned is ridiculous. There is no way we can claim that this will be a complete non-partisan exercise. We cannot. The government has basically put on the committee an organization that is going to be helping it directly. That is what I heard at the finance committee. Nothing I have heard during the debate today changes my mind on the fact that the government is trying to push the scales again on one side, just as it did with the justice system. It is pushing on the scales here and trying to ensure it gets the best possible coverage, because a lot of the money does not flow out immediately. It is the potential of future cash that would ensure that large media organizations are on side.
Therefore, I will be voting for this motion, because it is very important that every single member stand on this issue and be heard on where they stand on behalf of their constituents for a free press without any direct government involvement. We should not be in the business of subsidizing the business of the press. We want a free press, yes, but not press subsidized with government and taxpayer dollars.
View Gordie Hogg Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Gordie Hogg Profile
2019-06-03 18:01 [p.28443]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean for sharing his time with me. It has been a delight to sit here this afternoon and listen to the debate and the profound, sometimes heated, disagreements about values and the same heated disagreements about the process. It has been interesting to follow.
As I reflect on the small newspapers in my community, three of them have not survived over the past number of years. The one that has survived has survived with layoffs, with the volume inserts increasing. They are about an inch thick in some cases, with advertisements from places like Walmart and Home Depot and a myriad of others. They still report on local issues, service clubs, community events, local sports, cultural events and fundraisers, and they connect and inform the community in an important way. I think we all agree that they are an important part of our communities. That is something we share throughout the House.
How did we get to the point we are at today? I was interested to find that in the United States, in 1949, they introduced something called the fairness doctrine. It had two basic elements. It required people to devote some of their air time and some of their print time to controversial matters of public interest and to ensure that contrasting views regarding those matters were evident. It required those to be present in each instance.
The main agenda of the doctrine was to ensure that viewers and readers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints, consistent with the things we talk about in the House and that we talk about in democracies. As John Stuart Mill said, one may understand one's position perfectly well, but unless one understands the opposite position equally well, one is not informed enough to make a decision between the two. That is important to look at with respect to the doctrine. That doctrine was taken out of the U.S. in 2011, but the principles are still looked at by a number of media outlets.
Here we have had a number of reports done. The Public Policy Forum, on January 2017, published “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age”. It looks at the digital age, the type of change that is taking place and its impact, particularly in small communities across our country. Subsequent to that, the heritage committee, in June 2017, issued a report entitled “Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada's Media Landscape”.
All these reports have obliquely, if not directly, called on government to take action to protect the connection of local communities and to protect the notion of what we need to see. We do not want to see one newspaper for the world. We do not want to see Sirius radio reporting on the whole world. We want the focus on our communities, where we live and where we connect.
Reference has been made to the fact that 41 dailies and 235 weeklies have closed over the past few years. Some 10,000 positions have been lost. That is 31% of jobs in the field.
I was interested to read recently a report by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project. It found that 95% of newspaper endorsements in the 2011 election were for Harper. That was every daily in Canada that endorsed a party, except the Toronto Star, which endorsed the NDP that year. That was roughly three times Harper's standing in the opinion polls at the time, Carleton University Professor Dwayne Winseck wrote in his report.
In the 2015 election, things were not quite as monolithic, but 71% of all newspaper endorsements still went to Harper, and 17 of 23 newspapers that endorsed a candidate endorsed the Tories.
As we look at the debate today, it almost seems that there is identity-based decision-making taking place. We are in agreement that we want there to be no biases or favouritism and that we want total transparency on the issues coming from government and presented by the media. I agree that it is essential that our democracy rely upon the respect and independence of journalists.
I have no doubt that a proper balance of perspectives would be achieved with the composition of the panel. As I have said, there are biases on both sides and assumptions on both sides. Each of us has our biases and ways of proving that what we believe to be true is true.
The organizations that will appoint the members of the panel are operating at arm's length from government. All three reports I referred to have called upon government to act, and we are doing it in that fashion.
We are talking about professionals. We are talking about their expertise and their knowledge for the benefit of the news industry. The best thing government can do is leave the panel to do its work and report back in due time, and that is what is going to happen.
The motion before us suggests that journalists may be able to be bought. It assumes that workers should not be involved in their own decisions, which is contrary to everything we say in terms of the policy development we are working with in government. I disagree with that. A bankrupt press, which is entirely possible if we do not do this, is not a free press. It is no press at all.
I encourage members of the House to stand up for a free press and for a well functioning democracy and to stand up against the motion we have before us.
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