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WATCH: Erin O'Toole commits to ending media bailout

Parliament, under the Trudeau Liberals, approved a $595 million bailout to the press in 2019 that did not create jobs as promised.

Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary AB

A National Post reporter asked Conservative leader Erin O’Toole Monday on his platform commitment to ending public subsidies for corporate legacy media. Parliament, under the Trudeau Liberals, approved a $595 million bailout to the press in 2019 that did not create jobs as promised.

"You talk about legacy media outlets that hang on by a thread. Will you recommit today to ending the bailout to legacy print media?" asked Chris Selley.

O’Toole responded: "I’ve said as part of this modernization looking at the public interest mandate of CBC, we also have to look to end the direct government support of the media."

But he urged the need to work with them to aid their transition to the digital space of the social media environment.

"We need to balance the field with the American web giants. We will do that while protecting freedom of speech and internet freedom. But we do need to modernize this area of broadcasting in a way that is fair for all players, including private-sector players in both languages." said O’Toole.

He added this is another example where the Trudeau Liberals failed to protect jobs and help industries in Canada during a pandemic election.

Despite the massive half-a-billion subsidy, staff counted a continued net loss of thousands of jobs. The findings contradict what publishers said, who claimed increased readership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The decrease in advertising revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to service reductions and newspaper closures resulting in the loss of more than 2500 jobs," said a briefing note Improving Federal Support For Journalism. The department said it knew of "the hiring of 342 journalists" but only because wages were subsidized 100 percent under a $50 million Local Journalism Initiative.

Parliament in 2019 passed amendments to the Income Tax Act awarding a total of $595 million to cabinet-approved media on a promise of job creation.

In recent years, 41 daily newspapers have disappeared, and 10,000 jobs have been lost, indicating a "crisis" for the struggling industry.

As part of his platform for the upcoming federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for CBC-Radio Canada. The CBC, Canada's Crown broadcaster, would receive $400 million over four years under this proposal.

"A re-elected Liberal Government would… provide $400 million over four years to CBC/Radio-Canada so that it is less reliant on private advertising with a goal of eliminating advertising during news and other public affairs shows," states the Liberal party's website.

This amount would be in addition to the $150 million per year the Trudeau Liberals gave the broadcasting company in 2015.

Released just one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election, the Conservative platform states that a Conservative government would review CBC's role and viability.

The Conservatives would “assess the viability of refocusing the service on a public interest model like that of PBS in the United States, ensuring that it no longer competes with private Canadian broadcasters and digital providers.”

The Conservatives also said they would make news subscriptions to Canadian outlets tax-deductible and eliminate GST on Canadian platforms to redress the balance between them and large American media.

In addition to initial funding, Canada’s heritage department refused to name publishers awarded nearly $61 million in pre-election "emergency relief." The grants were to ensure readers receive "timely information they require from their government," wrote Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault in a letter to MPs.

"These measures demonstrate the government’s commitment to both a robust, diverse and sustainable news ecosystem and ensuring Canadians can receive the timely information they require from their government," wrote Guilbeault in a July 21 letter to the Commons heritage committee. The letter did not elaborate on links between subsidies and coverage of cabinet announcements.

The letter referenced unnamed publishers as "emergency support" provided through an existing heritage department program called Aid To Publishers. The grants were in addition to annual subsidies already paid, including proceeds from a $595 million media bailout approved by Parliament in 2018.

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