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.