By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On June 20 the House of Commons was discussing the Online News Act which will regulate online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada.
During this discussion Pablo Rodriguez, MP for Honoré-Mercier, QC asked why the Conservatives were fighting this bill.
“I really do not understand why the Conservatives from all those small communities are fighting this bill, which is there to help local media in their own communities,” said Rodriguez. “How can they do that? Why are they doing that? Only they can answer that. We can only look at the pattern of how often they only side with tech giants, repeating their points, to understand part of the question. They are not there to support local media. They absolutely do not care, which is a shame. Therefore, we will stand up for them.”
In response to this Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, rose in the House to clarify his position.
“We have just heard some comments about newspapers in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but not one of those are in my riding,” said Shields. “I talked to those newspapers and asked what they wanted, and they told me. They are independent and do not belong to that group. They want the $60-some million back that would be given to the foreign nationals. They want that money for advertising, the 30 per cent. They do not want that to be given to internationals. Also, when the minister said that we supported tech giants, he should go to committee and listen to my comments about big tech. It was the Liberals who agreed with me on big tech, while hammering away at it. You did not find me in the committee supporting big tech. We did not do it. I did not do it. The Liberals agreed with me on how I opposed the big tech. Therefore, when you keep saying that, things like that, you should listen to the committee and my comments.”
Later in the day, Shields rose again in the House to ask a question directed towards Martin Champoux, MP for Drummond, QC.
“I appreciate the member for Drummond,” said Shields. “On the committee, we shared similar philosophies and asked lots of questions. The member has many small communities in his riding, as I do. We heard that of most of the money, maybe upwards of $350 million, 70 per cent to 85 per cent had already been negotiated to go to the big guys, like Bell, Rogers and CBC. What does the member think might be left for our small publishers, like the one-reporter papers? The Conservative motion to support those was voted against. What does the member think might be left for some of the small papers with one journalist, which I know he has in his riding?”
Champoux rose to respond to Shields’s question.
“I would like to thank my colleague from Bow River because he is a staunch defender of small media outlets and the regional media, the local papers he talks about so passionately,” said Champoux. “He did a great job of defending them and representing them during the committee study. Originally, long before Bill C-18 was tabled, the Bloc Québécois’s idea was that we should create a royalty fund financed by the web giants’ profits. That is not what the industry wanted, so the Bloc got behind the idea of a bill based on what Australia did. That is what the industry and the whole community wanted. However, if there are smaller media outlets or outlets that are not eligible but are still essential to regional news coverage, then we should implement emergency measures to help them and support them financially. The fund I was talking about earlier could be added to a measure like Bill C‑18. It could target and clearly identify small media outlets, like the ones my colleague from Bow River was talking about, that will have a hard time of it because they cannot get ahead. Once the bill has been implemented, I think that there might be more of an appetite for that type of proposal.”
Once again, later Shields fired off another question this time directed at Peter Julian, MP for New Westminster—Burnaby, BC.
“I appreciate my honourable colleague’s work on the committee, but I remember that the Conservatives put forward an amendment to have one newspaper reporter (include single reporters),” said Shields. “He lists many papers, and they are not the non-daily papers in my riding. I have many who are single, yet he voted against having a single reporter qualify for this. He takes great pride in talking about the worker bees and that we got it to one and a half but I am asking this: What about the ones in my riding? There are not any of the papers he has named in my riding. He has named papers in major cities, not in the small communities that I support. Why did he vote against our amendment to support the small weekly papers like in my riding?”
In response to this Julian shared his opinion that he thought the NDP amendment was superior to the amendment that the Conservative Party presented.
“I have a lot of respect for that member and really enjoy working with him on the Canadian Heritage Committee,” said Julian. “He is correct that the Conservatives did present that amendment. I thought the amendment the NDP presented was better. As he knows, any sole proprietorship that hires, even at a quarter time or half time, a journalist to go out there will qualify for the program. That includes the publications in his riding as well. The NDP amendment was better and, I think, more complete. We have worked together to get a much better bill in front of Parliament. It is going to be a bill that helps community publications right across this country. As I know, he approached the whole negotiation and the amendment process in good faith. Why is he voting against the bill now when the bill does so much for community newspapers, not only in his riding but also right across Alberta and Saskatchewan?”
Later, Shields rose in the House once again to state how the NDP has voted against supporting small local newspapers throughout Canada.
“In my riding there are 13 weekly newspapers,” said Shields. “The NDP voted against a number of them receiving it because one person is the proprietor, owner and reporter. The NDP voted against our amendment to support small local media in my riding. I think the MP from Saskatchewan would probably respond, as it is similar in her riding, but the NDP voted against that.”