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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is laughable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was wrong.

– Bob Cox

Just Posted

VIDEO: ‘Glow Christmas’ opens for the holiday season

Massive Langley light show features 500,000 lights

VIDEO: New Christmas bureau breakfast helps many Langley families

A refugee family from Iraq believe Langley offers them a better life.

Langley RCMP warning: Wife scammed with border services money demand

Langley’s RCMP is warning the public about some scams going around and how technology is being used.

Crime Severity Index study puts Langley City in top 10 ‘most dangerous’

Break & enter, robbery stats push City to sixth place nationally, according to MacLean’s magazine

Teen arrested following Brookswood Secondary lockdown

Langley RCMP are still trying to determine if a real firearm was involved.

VIDEO: Langley concert and five new songs inspired by Canada’s 150th

Familiar faces from Langley Community Music School were asked to create Canadian pieces for Nov. 25.

SFU creates fund in memory of Aiden Serr

A celebration of his life on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. at Maple Ridge Baptist Church.

An adopted cat is the best 10 pounds you’ll gain this season

BC SPCA encouraging families to add a forever feline friend during adoption event Nov. 24 to Dec. 3

Celebrating 4-H in Canada

Langley youths highly active in 4-H movement, welcome new members

Uber official says public needs to push for ridesharing in B.C.

Mike van Hemmen tells Kelowna Chamber of commerce ridesharing would be ‘win-win-win’

B.C. co-ops relieved with Ottawa’s housing strategy

Federal government to have a new co-operative housing funding model in place by 2020

B.C. NDP referendum plan sparks legislature battle

David Eby says public will decide on proportional referendum

Santa Claus is coming to Aldergrove

Christmas celebrations and parade set for Saturday, Dec. 9

Hammy has been freed of his threads, a purple antler remains

The iconic Prince Rupert buck with a piece of hammock attached to his antlers was caught by COs

Most Read