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TRCM - Standing Committee

Transport and Communications




OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met with video conference this day at 9 a.m. [ET] to study Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada.

Senator Leo Housakos (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good morning.

My name is Leo Housakos. I am a senator from Quebec and the chair of the committee. I will now ask my fellow senators to introduce themselves.


Senator Simons: Senator Paula Simons, Alberta, Treaty 6 territory.


Senator Miville-Dechêne: I am Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne from Quebec.

Senator Cormier: I am Senator René Cormier from New Brunswick.


Senator Manning: Fabian Manning, Newfoundland and Labrador.


Senator Clement: I am Bernadette Clement from Ontario.


Senator Harder: Peter Harder, Ontario.

Senator Cardozo: Andrew Cardozo from Ontario.

Senator Quinn: Jim Quinn, New Brunswick.

Senator Dasko: Donna Dasko, senator from Ontario.

The Chair: Honourable senators, we are meeting to continue our examination of Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada. For our first panel, we have all of our panellists here in person, which is great. I’d like to introduce Thomas S. Saras, President and Chief Executive Officer, Media, National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada; Karine Devost, Senior Legal Counsel, The National Council of Canadian Muslims; Rizwan Mohammad, Advocacy Officer, The National Council of Canadian Muslims; and Linda Lauzon, Executive Director, Réseau-Presse, Consortium of Official Language Minority. I welcome all of you.

Every group gets five minutes of introduction, and then we go to Q&A. Mr. Saras, you have the floor. You’re eager to get us going.

Thomas S. Saras, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada: Honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to express our views today.

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents third-language media and media in official languages serving racialized communities, including the Black press. That includes newspapers, radio, television and online-only news outlets.

Today, the state of the ethnic press is dire. Journalism was facing many challenges before due to very limited markets of the linguistic communities of our country, but following the COVID-19 pandemic, things have only gotten worse. Yet, the necessity to maintain Canada’s other voices is very important for the benefits of the Canadian democracy. By “ethnic press,” I mean free of prejudice and unfettered by selfish bias, serving truth and justice. That press remains the servant of our democracy and multiculturalism.

In Canada, we have many newcomers and residents who are most comfortable receiving their news in their native tongue. The ethnic press’s role is to help the integration of newcomers to Canada, a tradition that has been well established over the years. Its role is now more critical than ever before, given the growth of misinformation that has spread online and throughout different messaging apps. Canada’s ethnic press fights misinformation from all over the world with one powerful weapon: trusted journalism that our organization is providing by educating its members.

Communities know that they can rely on their local editors to tell them the truth and to accurately report on the goings-on at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, as well as around the world. This is because editors and reporters are members of the communities they serve. They are not halfway around the world. It is someone whom you run into in the community and who lives in your neighbourhood.

But today, all that is threatened by inaction. We need to take steps to make sure free journalism for the future of Canada.

It cannot just be three conglomerates controlling the information of the Canadian public. In our democracy, it is important to have a diversity of free voices and opinion. The ethnic press, by and large, has been immune from mass consolidation, but that is now changing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many editors and owners were faced with a choice: They could continue publishing without advertising revenue, or they could stop publishing and deprive their communities of critical public information.

The vast majority of the ethnic press decided to fight and publish. But what this means is that despite government support programs during the pandemic, many media outlets have gone into heavy debt to continue.

It is in that context that when members learned about Bill C-18, they breathed a sigh of relief. Here, finally, was a necessary lifeline that would allow their operation to stay afloat.

At this point, let me tell you that much of the sector is aging, so Bill C-18 also provides important assistance in allowing ownership to be transferred or passed down to the new generation. It is with regret that we recognize the heart of the matter: we have internet giants who do not wish to contribute or serve diverse communities.

The vital question we must therefore answer is this: How do we maintain a diverse journalistic ecosystem in Canada, the most multicultural country in the world? The answer is that if we want free journalism, we have to pay for it, and that is Bill C-18.

I have not heard from any other organizations what a more established plan for journalism would be. We are asking you to vote in favour of supporting Bill C-18, because it will make a vital difference for outlets all across the country, in all shapes, sizes, languages and publication. We want our newcomers to understand Canada and the new culture of our democratic institutions and political systems. We want new Canadians not to feel isolated and to know what is happening in their community and around the world. In times of crisis, we want Canadians to have access to accurate information they can understand.

Canada is a nation of many nationalities, many races and religions, and we are bound together by the virtues of respecting one other and the enjoyment of freedom and equality. I think everyone agrees with that.

Bill C-18 is a sustainable way to retain what we have today and build a brighter future tomorrow. Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Saras. Now, I will turn it over to the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Karine Devost, Senior Legal Counsel, National Council of Canadian Muslims: Good morning, committee members. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to be here today to provide our recommendations regarding Bill C-18, also referred to as the “online news act.”

Consider the Quebec City Mosque attack, the London terror attack and the Toronto International Muslim Organization mosque attack. All three of the fatal attacks in recent years targeting Canada’s Muslim community have a nexus with online hate. We have been urging the government to address online hate in ways that ensure that the civil liberties of Canadians are protected. We are here to ask the Senate to consider amending Bill C-18 so that news businesses that promote hate are not eligible to be funded by big tech companies.

By way of background, on December 6, 2022, NDP MP Peter Julian mentioned MP Champoux’s amendment in committee and proposed adding a subclause (1.1) to clause 27 regarding QCJO, or qualified Canadian journalism organization, eligibility as follows:

The code of ethics referred to in subparagraph (1)(b)(iv) must include measures for ensuring that no news content that promotes hatred against any identifiable group is produced or made available and that any errors of fact are corrected promptly and in a transparent manner.

This sub-amendment unfortunately did not pass clause-by-clause.

Fast forward three months, on March 6, 2023, Muslim leaders representing Quebec Muslim organizations, mosques and business leaders came to Ottawa to meet with members of parliament from different parties, as well as senators, to discuss Bill C-18. They expressed their commitment to supporting objective, fair, independent news. They also expressed their concerns as Quebec Muslims that Bill C-18, as currently drafted, could have significant unintended consequences for Muslim Canadians, immigrants and other diverse Canadians, especially in Quebec.

The reason is that the bill in its current form would allow major news businesses like Le Journal de Montréal and others that are well known for spreading anti-Muslim hate and anti-immigrant clickbait to be effectively funded by big tech companies and lead to further division in Quebec, including more discriminatory outcomes similar to Bill 21, which was tabled by the Coalition Avenir Québec government.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims is supportive of a thriving news ecosystem and supportive of appropriate regulation for tech giants like Google and Meta. Bill C-18 represents an important opportunity for us to support Canadian media companies by incentivizing them to create more well-sourced and balanced news content online, rather than the clickbaiting and rage-farming content that has become all too prevalent online today. We want to support measures to promote good quality journalism in Canada. To propose that big tech giants pay their fair share is reasonable in principle, but we are concerned that if Bill C-18 passes in its current form, some news businesses that are peddling hate in our country will inadvertently financially benefit from what would effectively end up being a government-imposed obligation to subsidize hate online.

Our recommendations are as follows: We believe that the eligibility criteria in the bill should be clarified to prevent news businesses that spread hate from being able to access potentially millions of dollars in future funding. We recommend that the Senate accomplish this through a simple amendment which is to have a code of ethics that would be applied evenly to include all eligible news businesses. To apply the code of ethics evenly, the Senate can amend clause 27 to ensure that there are not two different sets of standards creating uneven obligations for a code of ethics for eligible news businesses. Second, the current code of ethics referred to in Bill C-18 does not have a complaint procedure or mechanism that sets out what to do if a code of ethics appears to have been violated. To remedy this, the bill can be amended with a section on a code of ethics that empowers the CRTC, which is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or another regulatory body to address and resolve public complaints when news businesses peddle hate.

Our suggestions for specific language for amendments will be shared in a more fulsome written submission for your consideration.

Subject to any questions, these are our submissions. Thank you.


The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Devost.

We will now hear from Linda Lauzon, Executive Director, Réseau-Presse, Consortium of Official Language Minority Community Media.


Linda Lauzon, Executive Director, Réseau-Presse, Consortium of Official Language Minority: Honourable members of the committee, I stand before you today as the representative of the Consortium of Official Language Minority community media.

The consortium was created in 2016 to represent the interests and promote the added value of about 100 local official language minority media in English Quebec and in French Canada in the other nine provinces and three territories. The four partners of the consortium are the Quebec Community Newspapers Association, representing English local newspapers; the English Language Arts Network, representing English radio in Quebec; L’Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada, representing French Canadian community radio — my colleague from L’Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada, Pierre Sicard, is here with me today — and Réseau-Presse, representing the Franco-Canadian local newspapers.

Yes, I started in English because we are a bilingual group, and we do everything in French and English.


Now I will switch to French.

The consortium is appearing before the committee as part of this study because of the Senate’s integral role in representing minority interests and responsibility for examining the potential effects of legislation on groups like ours.

Whether it’s the community radio station in Blanc-Sablon, on the Lower North Shore, The Gaspe Spec newspaper on the Acadian Peninsula, the L’aurore boréale newspaper in Yukon or La voix acadienne in Prince Edward Island, our local media are very often the only source of local news in the minority language.

As we indicated in the consortium’s brief to the committee in connection with this study, nearly two months ago, the majority of the media outlets we represent have been overlooked by the government in this bill.

You are already familiar with the impact of the digital shift. Multiply that by 10 for official language minority community, or OLMC, media, which already depended heavily on government advertising revenue to continue serving the needs of official language minority populations adequately.

For those senators who may be less familiar with the reality OLMC media face, here is a brief overview. Our local media serve minority communities, so they do not have, nor have they ever had, access to a sufficient number of local advertisers to make up the shortfall. The populations they serve simply aren’t large enough.

Over the past decade, community media have lost a significant portion of the government advertising revenue they depended on to the web giants. The government has chosen to favour digital media advertising, leaving nothing but crumbs for OLMC media. In 2022-23, the local media organizations we represent received an average of $7,500 in federal advertising revenue. That’s the average today. The data we collected show that, ten years ago, the average was $55,000. That was their main source of revenue. Our local media serve minority populations, so much smaller populations. Consequently, OLMC media don’t generate enough traffic on their online communications platforms to interest digital advertisers. We are nowhere close to the level of traffic required, and it’s absurd to think we are.

In this bill, the government once again overlooked its inherent responsibility under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Specifically, subsection 41(1) of the act stipulates the following:

The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

Our community radio stations and newspapers are a measure of their community’s vitality. That is why we are proposing an amendment to clause 11 of the bill. We feel it should explicitly recognize the unique reality of OLMC media across Canada.

The consortium has condemned the government for the passage of a number of media-related measures that fail to recognize the reality of OLMC media. The consortium criticizes that same lack of recognition in this bill.

OLMC media cover very large geographical areas and have seen their revenues decline significantly. Take, for instance, Alberta’s Le Franco, which is very clearly expected to serve all of Alberta’s French-speaking communities, from Calgary to Fort McMurray. There’s one local paper. Our local news outlets have had to change their business models, replacing most of their staff journalists with freelancers. They had no choice: they could no longer afford to have employees. As we speak, approximately 60% of the reporters OLMC media rely on are freelancers. That’s a significant proportion.

A news outlet might currently have two eligible employees, further to the requirement in the bill, but its situation could change very quickly. Things change quickly for our media outlets. The consortium is proposing an essential amendment to clause 27, one that would recognize the use of freelance journalists by our news outlets. That recognition would immediately render those news outlets eligible, taking into account possible changes to their business model.

The consortium is also very concerned about the ability of OLMC media outlets and groups to access the resources and expertise required at every step of the bargaining process under the bill.

As the executive director of Réseau-Presse, I can tell you that we signed agreements with Facebook and Google. Given the administrative burden and complexity of the process, this option is really not within the reach of most OLMC radio stations and newspapers. The papers and radio stations that the Consortium of Official Language Minority Media represents are known for producing quality trustworthy news content. The consortium would be remiss not to mention the fact that, beyond the commercial value of the deals with the web giants…

The Chair: You’re at six and a half minutes.

Ms. Lauzon: I just have this left.

The Chair: Perhaps you can work it into the question and answer portion.

Ms. Lauzon: All right. Thank you.

The Chair: You’ve covered a lot.


The Chair: I have a question for Mr. Saras. I would like to have Ms. Lauzon’s opinion on it as well.

I oppose the bill. I don’t oppose the bill because of its objective. The objective is important. We need to do something to help media, which is part of our democratic process. Where I have difficulty with it is that I don’t think it meets its targets.

The government says they want to help diversity in media; they want to get a healthy media and expand the media. Yet, when you look at what the Parliamentary Budget Officer did when he evaluated the bill, he believes the vast majority of the funding will be going to the three giants that Mr. Saras mentioned that are already eating up a huge part of the advertising base.

Furthermore, if I heard correctly from Ms. Lauzon, the government is already giving advertising money to local media, probably not enough, nowhere near comparable what they give to the three giants. I am talking about the government advertising pie.

Can you tell us, Mr. Saras, how much of that government advertising pie currently goes to the ethnic media? From my information, the amount is zero. I would like your comments on the Parliamentary Budget Officer who believes that the vast majority of this money will go to the giants and not local and ethnic media.

Mr. Saras: Mr. Chair, we have had a problem for years now with the Government of Canada on the advertising side. The francophone and the anglophone publications were receiving between $140 million and $170 million a year in support. The ethnic press was never over a million dollars.

I do have here the government advertising report for 2022 in which it shows that out of $140 million in advertising, the ethnic publishers received only $1.6 million. That’s it.

I want to bring to your attention that there are about 1,200 publications in about 79 languages all over Canada. The problem is these people tried to maintain the work they are doing. Being an ethnic journalist is not something you want to do because you will survive. It’s something that you feel inside.

I believe and often say that journalism is like the priesthood. You dedicate yourself to this thing, to the community, and you are working there. Now, the problem is our communities went down. For the last three years, my publication has been making $1,000 in advertising from outside, and I always pay myself.

If you allow me, my credit cards are almost $180 close up because every time we are going to the printer, the printers add $200 more. This is continuing and continuing. We don’t have any help from anyone.

I don’t believe, and I don’t want to accept that the ethnic press has nothing to do with Canada. Canada is based on the ethnic press. We are the ones who are going to meet today’s and tomorrow’s immigrants, tell them about the institutions and the political process of the country and help them integrate into this country as soon as possible.


The Chair: Would you like to comment, Ms. Lauzon?

Ms. Lauzon: Further to your comment, I would say that, right now, all of us at the Consortium of Official Language Minority Media agree with you. This bill was designed for the media giants, not small news outlets. We all agree on that. The process set out in the bill is completely out of reach for small media outlets.

I’ll be perfectly honest. The consortium’s examination of the bill clearly shows that our news outlets will end up with crumbs, one way or another.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: My question is for the National Council of Canadian Muslims representatives.

Thank you, Ms. Devost. You’re from Acadia, if I’m not mistaken.

Ms. Devost: I’m from Edmundston.

Senator Cormier: You’re from the Madawaska Valley.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: I want to follow up on the online hate you talked about. I am very cognizant of the fact that things are difficult for the Muslim community in Quebec. Public perception and Bill 21 have a lot to do with it. Everything that’s happening right now is extremely difficult for the community. I recognize that. I know a lot of women who find it very tough to go about their lives normally when wearing their veils.

I’m very aware of those issues.

What I have trouble with, as a former journalist, is that your amendment goes to the heart of freedom of the press. I think it could undermine that freedom. The whole idea behind Bill C-18 is that media outlets have the ability to establish a code of ethics to adhere to, one of their choosing. It’s clear that, provincially, codes of ethics already exist, having been approved and so forth. However, the idea of the CRTC, an organization that operates at arm’s length from, but has ties to, the federal government, being able to determine the code of ethics is extremely difficult for me to accept.

Furthermore, hate speech is a criminal offence. I, of course, very often disagree with the views expressed in Quebec newspapers regarding the Muslim community, but it seems to me that the courts can deal with the matter of hate speech.

I’d like you to comment on the sensitive dynamic between what you’re proposing and freedom of the press. What is the best way to deal with hate speech in the media?

Ms. Devost: My colleague Rizwan will answer that, if you don’t mind.


Rizwan Mohammad, Advocacy Officer, National Council of Canadian Muslims: Thank you, Senator Miville-Dechêne, for that question. I want to make sure I understand what you are asking.

Are you saying the amendment we’re proposing for a code of ethics to apply to all eligible news businesses may compromise the unity of the press?

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Compromise freedom of the press.

Mr. Mohammad: Freedom of the press.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: I also said if there is some speech in Quebec media — and I’m not saying there is, because obviously this is also a question of interpretation — should it be dealt with by the courts and not by this bill? I realize this was in the bill, but it was not voted on. I’m pretty sure it’s because what I’m speaking about.

Mr. Mohammad: Thank you for clarifying.

First, the NCCM supports a free press. We are committed to fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression, and that means freedom of the press, academic freedom and so forth.

From our perspective, our proposed amendment is not meant to undermine that in any respect. If this bill is about checks and balances, regulating news intermediaries and determining who is eligible to be funded through a collective bargaining regime, we would like to see the eligible news businesses be those that are incentivized to actually be producing good quality journalism.

If there is content that is objectionable and that people would want to go to court over, that’s certainly their prerogative, but we don’t think that is actually what we’re asking for this bill to do. We’re really looking for there to be fairness and consistency so that if there’s a code of ethics included in the legislation, it should be applied in a non-discriminatory fashion in —

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Who decides what is good journalism or what is discriminatory? This is the whole problem. A free press — you cannot have a regulatory body decide on that. It’s very clear that’s not what the CRTC could do.

Mr. Mohammad: Yes, and we are not proposing that the CRTC determine that. There is a code of ethics mentioned in this legislation and there is no clarification on what to do if a code of ethics appears to be breached. We are proposing that there should be some clarification and guidance about what happens. That shouldn’t be imposed by government; it should be determined by a consultative process with the public.

Does that speak to your question?

Senator Miville-Dechêne: It’s your answer.

Mr. Mohammad: Thank you.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Thank you.


Senator Cormier: First, I’d like to congratulate and thank all the witnesses for everything they’re doing to provide proper news coverage in every region of the country.

My questions are for Ms. Lauzon. I read the consortium’s brief carefully, so I have a number of questions for you. I thought I heard you say that some news outlets had signed agreements with Google and Facebook. If so, can you give us an idea of how much those agreements are worth and what it was like for your small media outlets to negotiate with Google and Facebook?

Ms. Lauzon: We served as the intermediary. We entered that arena first. Acadie Nouvelle, a larger media outlet with more resources, and La Liberté, a Winnipeg paper that is now a non-profit organization, have done it. The agreements with Acadie Nouvelle are confidential, but I can give you a few figures. Nothing has come out, but it has a lot more resources. It’s a bigger organization, so implementing recommendations and making things happen is easier.

La Liberté signed a deal worth $100,000 with Facebook, or Meta. Underlying the agreement was a plan to help the paper, give it a boost and such. It really lacked the capacity needed, and it’s facing a lot of challenges right now. The paper has decent capacity, but other papers are still dealing with a host of challenges, and they wouldn’t be able to implement a similar agreement.

A deal was also signed with Google, through the Google News Initiative, but it was for the network. It was worth US$172,000, and it helped all members, to collect data and set up processes. Administering the agreement is complex, in terms of the processes and subsequent reporting, so this option isn’t available to our members, our OLMC radio stations and so forth.

I can tell you that there’s quite a bit of complexity involved. If our news outlets are required to go through a bargaining process to get there, some of them will just throw in the towel.

Senator Cormier: Thank you. I want to ask you about something specific. In your brief, you refer to clauses 11 and 27. Clause 11 references official language minority communities, but you say you aren’t satisfied with how it’s laid out. What do you recommend?

Ms. Lauzon: We are very glad that the bill clearly recognizes Indigenous news outlets. That’s wonderful, and we think it’s very important. However, as I said earlier and as we pointed out in our brief, official language minority community media have recognition under one act — the Official Languages Act — so we’d like to have the same recognition.

We would’ve preferred that the government be proactive, not reactive, this time around, in terms of its obligations under the Official Languages Act. That’s explicitly clear in the bill, so we proposed an amendment to address that in our brief.

Senator Cormier: Thank you. In paragraph 46 of your brief, you say this:

Excluding freelance journalists from the calculation of the two journalists necessary for a business to be eligible is still a major problem because news businesses operating OLMC news outlets will have difficulty being eligible for the bargaining process implemented by Bill C-18.

Describe for us, if you wouldn’t mind, the business model. You touched on it earlier, but I’d like to get a better understanding. Do all small media outlets work…

Ms. Lauzon: About 65% of the journalists currently working in the network are freelancers. Owing to fluctuating and declining advertising revenue, the business model changed. Many organizations had no choice. They could no longer afford employees. They also have to cover fairly large areas, so they can have freelancers working in different places, especially in the case of provincial papers.

Senator Cormier: Does that mean that a significant portion of the media organizations the consortium represents would not be eligible?

Ms. Lauzon: Absolutely. Right now, they may employ people in other positions such as manager or editor, but I’ll give you an example. One of our papers has a manager, but the rest of its staff are freelancers. They would not be eligible. It’s an award-winning paper, one that was named paper of the year, but it won’t be eligible. The situation could also change. The newspaper might be eligible initially, but circumstances could change the following year. Bill C-18 is out of step with that reality.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Lauzon.


Senator Simons: As a progressive woman of Jewish descent, I share the concerns of the National Council of Canadian Muslims about news organizations that spread hate online, but as a journalist who spent 30 years working in the trenches, I’m deeply concerned by any suggestion that there should be any effort to control or censor what is in print as opposed to what is in broadcast and is regulated by the CRTC.

I come from Alberta. In the 1930s, the government of the day passed what it called the Accurate News and Information Act, which gave the government the power of rebuttal and the power to basically fact-check and correct anything the government believed was inaccurate. The courts properly struck that down as unconstitutional.

I come from a province where the current premier has said on the record in her capacity as premier that people who are not vaccinated are the most discriminated-against people in history. Just yesterday, tapes turned up with her comparing people who were vaccinated to Nazis.

So I’m always concerned about what happens if someone you don’t like or whose opinions you don’t share suddenly has the power to regulate, even at arm’s length, what is said in the press.

This is a very long preface; I usually don’t go for a long preface, but I was very confused, Mr. Mohammad, by the conclusion of your answer to my friend Senator Miville-Dechêne. If you don’t see the CRTC as the body that regulates this, then how would you imagine this working? I must tell you, having been a journalist, lots of people think there are factual errors in the newspaper that are just things they don’t like.

Mr. Mohammad: Thank you for that follow-up question and for giving us an opportunity to continue to clarify what we are calling for.

We have to be absolutely clear that, from our experience with news businesses across the country over the past few decades, whenever we have appealed to the existing mechanisms that are in place — appealed to codes of ethics and breaches of the code of ethics through non-legal processes, by actually trying to meet with editorial boards, trying to communicate with journalists and trying to write op-eds ourselves to try to provide corrections of information from our perspective — it has been a very difficult road.

We’ve basically seen that the current approach to having the media regulate themselves has just not been working as effectively as it should. It’s led to spikes in — especially during election cycles — targeting ethnic and religious minorities, especially Muslims and immigrants.

We’re looking for some kind of measure that would incentivize the kind of mainstream, fair, independent, objective journalism that we’ve come to expect.

What has happened in the digital space, from our perspective, is that the sheer volume of hateful content and prejudice and of slanted and biased content that’s not well sourced is spreading so fast that the existing kinds of mechanisms that have been in place to offer remedies for people to correct errors and to attempt to have balanced coverage or content about an issue where there is legitimate disagreement about things are just not working as well.

We see this bill as an opportunity to have news intermediaries bargaining to fairly compensate various news organizations, not to control what they say, undermine press freedom, adjudicate who is right and wrong or determine who is engaging in misinformation. Many sectors and industries have codes of ethics. Even most news businesses — maybe all of them — have some. But given that we need some kind of modernization to address the new realities of our digital condition, there is an opportunity to have a fair code of ethics that applies to everyone.

Senator Simons: If you don’t think the CRTC should do that — if you think it’s the news intermediaries — why on earth would we empower Facebook, which is one of the worst sources of misinformation and disinformation and which makes, as far as we can determine, virtually no effort to ensure it is not spreading hate and not being weaponized by international actors? I would be even more uncomfortable trusting the filtering of news to American multinationals that have a terrible track record in this area than I would even to the state via the CRTC.

Mr. Mohammad: Thank you for your point about that, Senator Simons. To be clear, we agree with you. We are not proposing that the tech companies do this. We said the CRTC or another regulatory body.

Senator Simons: Are you actually calling for the regulation of the free print media?

The Chair: Senator Simons, your time is up.

Senator Dasko: Thank you, witnesses, for being here. I actually seek further clarification on this exact issue.

Just let me approach this by way of example. Ms. Devost, you mentioned Le Journal de Montréal. Are you saying that Le Journal de Montréal shouldn’t get compensation from this program because of the way they talk about minorities, or are you saying that particular instances of things that appear in the paper that would seem to be discriminatory should be addressed on an individual case-by-case basis? So if they say something, then you would have a mechanism for redress through this bill, given what they’ve said; is that it? Are you saying they should actually be excluded from receiving the funds on that basis or is it the other?

I’m hoping to find clarification through your answer.

Mr. Mohammad: May I jump in on that? We’re saying that Le Journal de Montréal should be eligible for funding if it abides by a code of ethics. If there is a mechanism by which a public complaints process can resolve complaints — because we’ve communicated with them. They’ve recently been calling our CEO a terrorist, effectively, from their perspective, you are, as senators, talking with people who work with terrorists right now. That’s the kind of rhetoric that’s there.

Now, we’re not saying that should exclude them from being able to publish. We’re not calling for any legal constraints on them to publish whatever they want to say. We’re saying that any collective bargaining regime that would be required by the government for tech intermediaries — for the tech giants that are serving as news intermediaries to engage in the collective bargaining process — that for Le Journal de Montréal to be eligible, they should abide by a code of ethics.

Senator Dasko: So let’s say they would agree to whatever the code of ethics is. That means they would pass the bar for getting the funding.

Mr. Mohammad: Yes.

Senator Dasko: But then, let’s say they express opinions that seem to be negative. Then what? Have they violated a code? Then what?

Mr. Mohammad: If they breach the code — and this is one of the concerns we have with the bill. If the code is breached, there is no clarification on what to do. We are suggesting that the CRTC engage in a public consultative process that’s independent of government that creates what those obligations would be, what a breach would look like and what the remedy or resolution of that breach would be.

Senator Dasko: Okay. But they would get the funding. They would pass the . . .

Mr. Mohammad: We’re not calling for them to be ineligible for funding just because of what they say. If they sign on to a code of ethics that this bill would be requiring of some — currently, there are two kinds of obligations or two sets of obligations for a code of ethics. We’re saying that the language of the bill should be clarified so that all eligible news businesses have to abide by that code of ethics.

If they do that, then Le Journal de Montréal or any news business in the country should be eligible for compensation under this collective bargaining regime.

Senator Dasko: In one way, I’m not exactly sure why it would be different just signing a code; they’re still operating freely, presumably. What is the difference? I don’t see what the difference is between having a code. They continue to be the paper they are. They enjoy press freedom. They can say this and that. Right now, there are ways of redress if they cross a certain line, if they engage in actual hate — incentivize hatred — they are subject to the laws of the country right now. So I’m not sure what is different.

Mr. Mohammad: What we think should be different is that along with signing on to a code of ethics or abiding by a code of ethics, there has to be a clarification in the bill that imposes real consequences upon those who appear to be in breach of that code of ethics. Currently, there is no working mechanism. We’ve tried every existing mechanism that’s there.

Imagine how much it would cost and how much time it would take for people who are usually volunteers in their community organizations to actually go to court and try to litigate this. The resources of Le Journal de Montréal are just not something that community members who are being targeted, during election cycles or at other times, can fairly compete with.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Mohammad.

Senator Cardozo: I have one quick comment on that last piece. The CRTC does have extensive experience in dealing with these issues through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, and it’s something you might want to think about.

My question is for Mr. Saras. One of the criticisms of the bill is that it would make newspapers or media organizations beholden to the web corporations. If you’re getting any kind of support from web corporations or from the government in terms of advertising, does that make your papers beholden to them? Does it reduce your independence?

Mr. Saras: I don’t think so. First of all, at this point, we are an official agency, and we are holding money from the Government of Canada for two projects. One project is the Local Journalism Initiative, and the other project is for students who we are helping to get into the industry and into the sector.

To answer you and the gentleman before, everyone who gets money signs a contract, and the contract clearly shows that they cannot write anything against any other community or any other person based on race or anything else. If they are going to do that, the contract is nullified, and the money is returned. They lose the money, and they cannot apply again to the program.

So there are things for the sector and the industry also. We are taking care, and we want to make sure that everyone is going to be satisfied and no one is going to complain about one or the other. I don’t understand why we have to put someone above us to tell us how to do the job. We all have a code of ethics. The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada has a code of ethics, and it’s the same with the national news media.

We try our best. Sometimes, for whatever reason, one writer gets out of this. If the editor-in-chief is going to catch it, he’s going to stop it. If not, they’re probably going to apologize the next day.

Senator Cardozo: My question is more about funding from governments and corporations. If you get funding from them, does that affect your independence to criticize them or to criticize the government?

Mr. Saras: First of all, let me tell you that Google and Meta are making more than $2 billion a year in profit. I used to make $150,000 a year about ten years ago; today, I’m making about $38,000. That is whatever money I’m getting from advertisements. To this extent, I pay about $40,000 to printers. Plus, I have to pay the royalties. I have to pay —

Senator Cardozo: I’m sorry, but time is running out. Does that funding affect your independence to criticize the government or the corporations?

Mr. Saras: I don’t criticize. At this point, in the last two years, the government has done a very good job. Again, I love the government, and they love me at the government. We explained to the government that the industry is going down and cannot survive unless somehow it can be helped.

Senator Cardozo: If you don’t mind, I have one more question and I have to move along. My apologies.


My second question is for Ms. Lauzon.

You said that the requirement to regularly employ two journalists would be a problem for many of your members. Do you think criteria are needed to determine whether the organization is really a news business or a cooperative?

Ms. Lauzon: Yes, it would be very helpful to have criteria determine that. We would be fine with that.

Senator Cardozo: You don’t have an issue with the requirement to employ two journalists?

Ms. Lauzon: I may have misunderstood your question. We have a problem right now because many of the radio stations and papers we represent would not be eligible. At this time, about 65% of their journalists are freelancers, who are not employees. In the case of radio stations, they often have what they call a half-journalist or a manager and other freelancers, and people who join. All that to say, it’s really a problem. Things change all the time.

From our standpoint, the requirement is restrictive and will exclude certain media organizations. I’d like to respond to the previous question, if I may. On our end, we have everything in place. We also receive public funding administered by the government and government support for our newsrooms, and it’s all very transparent.

We have mechanisms and safeguards in place to fully preserve our independence and freedom to criticize all governments, whether we receive funding from them or not.

It is possible to establish safeguards, so the fact that we receive government funding in no way affects our ability to criticize government.


Senator Harder: My question is for Mr. Saras. We’ve had some difficulty finding out from the platforms whether any of your organizations have agreements with the platforms. Can you confirm whether that is true or not? Have any of your member organizations sought to initiate agreements with the platforms?

Mr. Saras: Well, we negotiated with them for about a year. At the beginning, they gave us the impression that they wanted to support us, and then suddenly they cut us off. They continued with the mainstream media. They did not give us an agreement, not even one, with one publication — whatever language it is — but there is not even one ethic publication that has an agreement with Google or Meta or any other company. The problem is that, for whatever reason, they moved to the mainstream media, and they stopped there.

Senator Harder: Let me have a follow-up question, then. I presume your support for this bill is in part to ensure that there is a bargaining process that is more balanced and fair, and in the absence of agreement, there is a final offer arbitration available to either side.

Mr. Saras: No. At this point, no. We are expecting that if you support the bill and that bill becomes law, then, of course, they have to come down and we are going to negotiate with them for a very fair deal. But if the bill does not pass the Senate and will be rejected, I don’t think that there is any way that we can go to them and ask them to negotiate or deal with us.

Senator Harder: Let me ask one final question. Some of the critics of the bill suggest that in this digital age we should just all get on with moving to digital sources of information.

In your community, what are the barriers to digitization from your readership? Are they able to use the internet as freely and effectively as my grandchildren?

Mr. Saras: Senator, I have published for 64 years in Canada. All those years, I had my audience. My publication goes all over the Greek communities of Canada and the United States. I never had any problem before, and I don’t have a problem even today with my publication. I can put out a million copies. They will go. The problem is that producing the million copies costs money.

From the other side, we lost advertisements. Every day we are losing private advertisements. Therefore, we cannot do anything. The last 2 years, 67 to 80 publications from different languages shut down. Some of them moved online. The internet is only for a very small number of people who will work through the computer and so on.

The immigrant who comes to Canada tomorrow doesn’t have access to the internet. They are always going to look to get a paper, a hard copy, in their hands to get the news. This is exactly the problem. This is what I am trying to communicate with you.

Senator Harder: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Mohammad, Ms. Devost, Ms. Lauzon, Mr. Saras. We appreciate your time with us here today.

Honourable senators, we continue our examination of Bill C-18, the online news act.

For our second panel, we are pleased to welcome from the Western Standard, Derek Fildebrandt, Publisher, President, CEO. From the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, we have Evan Jamison, President, and Dennis Merrell, Executive Director. From the Coalition of Canadian Magazines we have Nicolas Lapierre, Member of the Association des éditeurs de magazines québécois, and Nicole Doucet, consultant, joining us. Thank you and welcome the panellists.

Each organization will have five minutes for opening statements, then we will turn to questions and answers. We will start with the Western Standard. Mr. Fildebrandt, you have the floor.

Derek Fildebrandt, Publisher, President, CEO, Western Standard: Honourable senators, thank you for inviting me to testify before your committee today concerning Bill C-18, the Online News Act. I come before you today representing Western Standard New Media Corporation, which includes a growing body of regional publications, including the revived Alberta Report.

We are a publication highly unlike the large corporate media that have lobbied for this bill. As a so-called qualified Canadian journalism organization, we are eligible to receive the full suite of taxpayer subsidies that media are now entitled to in Canada, but we refuse to accept them. We believe that for media to be independent, we must be independent of the state.

While the legacy media in Canada cry poor and claim they are unable to make ends meet in the challenging environment of our industry, we have thrived. We have gone from a small group around my dining room table in 2019 to the most read online publication in Alberta. We have a large newsroom in our Calgary headquarters, bustling with activity and breaking original stories every day.

We have bureaus in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Ottawa. We did it all without the help of the government. I’m here today to plead with you to help stop the government from forcing its help on us through Bill C-18.

One of the most critical ways in which we were able to grow so quickly was the availability of platforms like Facebook to deliver our content to potential readers at no cost. Facebook made it possible for start-ups like ours to get our products in front of potential customers without the need for large, costly delivery operations.

My first job was as a small-town paper boy. In the winter, I even delivered papers through a makeshift dogsled with my husky. The local paper paid me to deliver their product to their customers.

In 2023, Facebook is the new paper boy, albeit a very rich one. They deliver our products to our customers, but they do it for free.

Greedy newspaper executives, not content with the existing massive bailout of their failing businesses, have come cap in hand to the government for more. They got Bill C-18, which would force Facebook and Google to pay them for delivering their content to their customers. If the government had passed a law in 1995 requiring paper boys to pay the local paper for the privilege of delivering the products, I would have quit.

It should come as no surprise, then, that is what today’s “paper boys,” Facebook and Google, have promised to do. Of course they will not pay the legacy media for helping the legacy media; it’s asinine. There will be no free money from these tech giants. They will simply turn off the news in Canada, and independent media in Canada will be collateral damage for their greed.

We never asked for this bill, and we were never consulted about it, but we will have a massive source of our traffic turned off as Facebook and Google retaliate for this naked rent-seeking operation. Bill C-18 should be killed, but I understand the Senate generally prefers to amend legislation rather than defeat it.

So here is my request: Please amend the bill to ensure those of us who are not trying to grift our way to profitability are not collateral damage. Please amend the bill to make it explicitly opt-in so that only media that want to partake in this shakedown are included. Importantly, that includes removing or amending clause 51, which prohibits Facebook or Google from treating news media outlets differently. This is important, because those platforms should not be required to shut down content from media outlets like the Western Standard that are not trying to fleece them. Let Goliath fight with Goliath, but do not require that the Davids get caught in the crossfire of their squabble.

One of the most important principles of our common law is that the government cannot force two unwilling parties to enter into contract with one another against their will, but that is precisely what Bill C-18 attempts to do. A free press must be free to enter into its own contracts of its own free will. Governments’ only role whatsoever must be in upholding those contracts in court.

More subsidies, direct and indirect, from taxpayers or other industries will not save the legacy media. Competition, adaptability and innovation will, if anything can. All that these lifelines thrown to big media do is stifle the ability of start-up new media to compete. Parliament has no place in regulating the media. The state has no place in the newsrooms of the nation.

Thank you for taking the time to hear me out, and I beg you to let the remaining free press remain free, and please, for the love of God, stop trying to help us.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Fildebrandt. I will now turn it over to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.

Evan Jamison, President, Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association: Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today.

I am the third generation of my family in the newspaper business and the third generation to sit as the president of our association. Our association represents all but a few of the community newspapers in Alberta. Today, we’ve come to advocate on behalf of those businesses, considered by many to be an important part of communities they serve.

The passage of Bill C-18 is important to the media landscape in Canada and can help shore up declining revenues at many newspapers, especially the larger ones. There is, however, significant concern among our membership regarding the level of support it will deliver to smaller publishers.

We have heard encouraging reports out of Australia regarding deals signed by publishers of all sizes. However, there is a lot of secrecy around those deals and the level of support being provided to any given news outlet. We have seen different estimates regarding the level of funding that could come from Bill C-18 and where most of these funds will end up. Considering those estimates and the nature of the value exchange calculation between publishers and platforms, it appears the revenue to small- and medium-sized outlets could be very low. We are also concerned that the major platforms will try to reduce the value of such deals if similar legislation is considered in different jurisdictions — different countries are looking at this — and the costs of these agreements will accumulate.

It appears to many that Meta has been avoiding new deals with news outlets. They have also stated they will stop hosting news content if Bill C-18 is passed in its current form. That move would significantly reduce the level of funding coming through Bill C-18 and impact traffic to many news sites.

Google has stated that their news showcase is not a fit for small and medium publishers. Google and Meta state that they gain little revenue directly from news. However, there is a strong argument that news does add value to both of their platforms, even if it is not direct: more time on sites, more data collected from users, et cetera.

We must also keep in mind that the digital world and platforms are constantly evolving. It is difficult to say which platforms and technologies will be dominant into the future. Governments and private lawsuits around the world are challenging the major platforms out of concerns around anti-competitive practices, privacy and misinformation. How will recent and ongoing developments in generative artificial intelligence impact this bill and the news operations it would support?

We were encouraged to see amendments to the bill, allowing non-arm’s length owner-operators to qualify. There are many of those small operations across Canada, and they are often the only source of news in the communities they serve.

We are also very concerned about the timelines projected by the CRTC. Upward of two years to have the regulations in place to facilitate arbitration is far too long given the precarious state of our industry.

As has been pointed out in previous hearings, there is no single solution to support all news outlets. The business models and scale at which they operate vary greatly. It is a very diverse industry, serving many different types of communities. What might work on a national scale with broad audiences will not necessarily work in a small town with a limited pool of interested readers.

The situation is dire for many news outlets. Some would blame that on an inability to adapt. Too often, we get described as “legacy” or “dinosaurs,” married to the old ways of doing things. That isn’t the case. Many operators are experimenting with different business and distribution models. Newspapers have long been early adopters of technology.

The problem is that there isn’t a clear path to success, especially for smaller local publishers. Good journalism takes time. It is expensive to produce and ephemeral in nature. While there are some encouraging signs that new models are evolving, it is too early to know their longevity and what types of communities will be able to support them. We often hear about the latest and greatest new model, only to have them fail after a period of time. They can also vary greatly in the quality and types of news they produce. Simply regurgitating news releases isn’t enough.

We must rebuild and strengthen news outlets that have been decimated by many years of revenue decline. We need not only to preserve what still exists but find adequate resources to provide quality news and information to local communities, not just for existing players but new ones as well, in digital or printed form.

We support Bill C-18 but think more is needed. Through the continued expansion of existing proven programs and the addition of others, the government has long supported local media through aid to publishers and, more recently, through special measures for journalism. The Local Journalism Initiative has been very important for many of our members serving small and rural communities and underserved communities in general, but that program is not necessarily set to go on permanently. Perhaps other funding methods, such as a refundable subscription tax credit, could be beneficial for small weekly newspapers, helping to restore subscription revenues that have steadily drained away over the past 10 to 15 years. Today’s non-refundable digital news subscription tax credit primarily benefits Canada’s large metropolitan daily newspapers.

Another option might be a tax on digital advertising sold in the Canadian market that could be redistributed through a fund to Canadian news outlets. Advertising has long supported journalism.

We are working with Canada Post to improve delivery timelines and reduce costs, especially for rural areas. Canada Post has also become a significant competitor for flyer distribution. Perhaps they should be required to support local journalism and become part of the solution rather than the problem.

As has been echoed by many other witnesses and members of this committee, we fundamentally believe that quality news coverage, however it is served, is vitally important to all communities. We are encouraged that the federal government is working on ways to support our industry in a time of great need. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. I will now turn it over to the Coalition of Canadian Magazines, Mr. Lapierre and Ms. Doucet.


Nicole Doucet, Consultant, Coalition of Canadian Magazines: Good morning. I want to begin by thanking you for the invitation and for giving us a chance to speak and share our values with you.

In a large country like ours, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, with a diversity of voices, this bill is going to promote or preserve who we are, the richness of who we are, the variety of people. This is a pivotal bill that can help Canadian print media survive and bring information, trusted news to the community, to Canada’s regions.

I can tell you that, as a consultant — I’m getting right into the topic of magazines — I have seen a lot of prejudice against magazines. Some people would say that magazines were more for women or whatever, but I can’t tell you that magazines also cover very serious topics.

I’d like to tell you who is part of the Coalition of Canadian Magazines. We have the Association québécoise des éditeurs de magazines, the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association. We also have the Magazine Association of British Columbia and Magazines Canada, which represents all the magazines in Canada.

We are here because we want to propose an amendment. I think you all have a copy of it. It’s paragraph 27(1)(b). We know that the first part of this eligibility issue is going to be determined by the income tax return, but for the second part, I guess the CRTC is going to determine eligibility.

For the time being, we suggest replacing “and” with “or” in “primarily focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events.” We are proposing “or” to allow for the inclusion of magazines. This means that subparagraph 27(1)(b)(iii) would be removed because we feel that newspapers cover the same topics as we do, whereas magazines cover topics in depth.

We also propose that paragraph 31(2)(c) be removed and that “and” be replaced with “or” in paragraph 31(2)(b). Thus, paragraph 31(2)(d) would become paragraph 31(2)(c).

I’ll let the clerk sort this out. For now, that would enable us to participate in this bill.

Nicolas Lapierre, Member of the Association des éditeurs de magazines québécois, Coalition of Canadian Magazines: I’d like to add some context to what Ms. Doucet said about the magazine industry. The Coalition of Canadian Magazines represents about 400 publishers from east to west, across Canada, from the largest houses to the smallest.

Ms. Doucet talked about prejudice and, in this context, you will understand that prejudice affects our industry.

I will try to show you that we may be going further than gossip magazines. The challenges of our industry in terms of magazines are the same as for newspapers, whether it’s the cost of paper or the rapid digital evolution and so on. Unlike newspapers, we do not receive funding.

Magazines play an important role in the Canadian media sector as an integral part of the news and journalism ecosystem. As the fourth pillar of democracy, they provide quality information and often offer a unique perspective on current events and issues through in-depth analyses and reporting. That’s the distinction. This helps readers have a more complete and nuanced understanding of issues.

When we talk about magazines, we often talk about cultural diversity. Magazines also provide a variety of news coverage ranging from daily news to in-depth analyses. They cover a variety of topics that reflect our culture, lifestyle, consumer habits, but also our interests and concerns such as women’s rights, social justice, the environment, food and savings.

In short, magazines are an important source of news that informs and educates Canadians and plays an important role in serving communities of all sizes at both the national and local levels.

Ms. Doucet: Like other people have said this morning, there is still a concern about artificial intelligence, which is the elephant in the room. Big changes are coming and we will all be in the same boat. So we have to make sure that our identity, our general culture and our popular culture can have their place and belong to us.

Mr. Lapierre: I’d like to say one final word on this subject. Knowing that we are in an ultra-competitive environment, we recently learned that two publishers in Germany used artificial intelligence to create a 136-page magazine in five days. The speed of adoption of this technology should not be beyond our control. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. Each senator will have five minutes to speak, including questions and answers.


Senator Miville-Dechêne: My first question is a short one for Mr. Fildebrandt. You said you wanted an opt-in clause. Other media have talked to me about this. What about an opt-out clause in clause 27? I understand the CRTC can decide at any point who is in, so would you be satisfied with an opt-out clause for media like yours? We’ve talked before, so I understand your concern.

Mr. Fildebrandt: Thank you, senator. It would be an improvement over the current bill, but my concern is that in my discussions with Meta and Google that their retaliation — and I really hate that I have to sit here and defend two companies I really don’t like. I’m not here to defend them, but they are the least bad guy in this. They will retaliate for this, as they have a right to do and as I would expect them to do. They will probably not go through a list of the thousands of Albertan publications. I know some senators here have Substack pages. Those could plausibly be considered news to some extent, or at least opinion on news. They could be caught within media, and then blocked on these platforms. In my discussions with Meta and Google, they’re not going to hire a whole team of people to crawl through every little page and say, “These guys have opted out” or “They are in.” They are going to blanket ban it.

If we make the bill opt-in, it makes it possible for us to contain this fight between the Goliaths to those who want to have the fight. I don’t want to have the fight, and I should not have to enter the ring. I shouldn’t by default be in the ring. I shouldn’t have to walk into it if I don’t want to.

Another interesting alternative would be to take the advice of one of the previous witnesses. I will voluntarily have us labelled as a hate group if that will get us out of this bill.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Thank you for your short answer, and thank you for clarifying that.


My next questions are for representatives of the Coalition of Canadian Magazines. These questions will be a bit tough.

This bill is based on the definition of what is news and what is not news. I understand that there is a possible interpretation of all that.

However, what does the issue of including magazines mean? Are L’actualité or Maclean’s, which are obviously news magazines, already included? I imagine they are. I don’t know what kind of research you’ve done on that.

On the other hand, how can someone think that a magazine like 7 Jours, which basically reports on celebrity gossip in Quebec — it’s a magazine that’s widely read, that’s very popular — represents what we call “news content”? Maybe it does, I’m not sure.

How do you differentiate between that and the more serious magazines, if you can call them that, that you advocate for? Are all lifestyle magazines, including those on celebrity gossip, part of the magazines that could be included in Bill C-18?

Mr. Lapierre: I will answer the first part of your question.

Like the 7 Jours magazine, I can think of other examples of magazines that do news and journalistic news. This gossip magazine bias still affects the entire industry.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: There are some magazines like that.

Mr. Lapierre: Yes, it’s true that there are some magazines like that. However, the others should not be neglected because of those who have that content style.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: So it would be on a case-by-case basis, right?

Mr. Lapierre: In my opinion, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis. For magazines like 7 Jours, you can go into the newsroom to see who is writing the texts. Is it journalistic content? Maybe not by the current standards, but I would say yes. There are people in the newsroom writing those general interest pieces that I think fall under the definition.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Of course, this is all debatable.

The second part of my question is about L’actualité and Maclean’s. These magazines are covered, right?

Mr. Lapierre: Yes, absolutely.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: Not all magazines are excluded. Do you think any of the 400 magazines you’re telling me about will be covered?

Ms. Doucet: Fewer than 10 of them will actually be covered. That’s the current thinking. It will be fewer than 10, whereas, for example...

The Chair: Senator, your time is up.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: So there are fewer than 10 of them.

Ms. Doucet: The magazines Protégez-Vous and Québec Science are not among them.

The Chair: Senator, your time is up.


Senator Simons: It’s nice to have Albertan representation today. I want to start with Mr. Jamison in St. Albert. You have expressed support for Bill C-18, but you have also pointed out that smaller newspapers like yours and like the ethic media groups we heard from earlier this morning may be disadvantaged in comparison to the “Goliaths,” to use Mr. Fildebrandt’s term. You also mentioned a variety of other things that you thought might be more targeted and useful to small publications like yours.

Obviously, Bill C-18 doesn’t include a funding model, but I can’t help but think when I listen to you and when I listen to our previous witnesses from the minority language and ethnic press that there must surely be a more tactical, surgical way to support small publications rather than forcing them to bargain with Meta and Google.

Mr. Fildebrandt: There is a lot of debate amongst the industry and different players because, as I said, it’s very diverse. We have members that serve all sorts of communities. It’s difficult, because there are a lot of unknowns with Bill C-18. We have some idea of what’s happened in Australia, but no one really knows the details of it. This legislation is different. It’s built on a two-way value exchange. When we look at small communities, like one of our newspapers out in Barrhead, Alberta, which is serving 3,500 people who live in that rural area, what does that value exchange look like? What support is actually going to come from that? On the other side, we have members within our association that have existing deals with platforms but may operate at a different scale than some of our smaller members.

There is a great unknown as to what might actually come out of Bill C-18, and there might be other ways of supporting small, low-traffic communities.

Senator Simons: Mr. Lapierre, there are a lot of great magazines in this country that combine news and lifestyle. I’m thinking about Toronto Life, Maisonneuve in Montreal and EDify in Edmonton. Has the government provided any information to you about how magazines like Toronto Life, Maisonneuve and EDify, which combine lifestyle with current affairs, are going to be classified?

Ms. Doucet: We don’t have any specific information about this. We have asked Canadian Heritage to see who they see as eligible, but they’re saying that it’s going to be the CRTC and that we should be speaking to them. It’s going to be at another step of the — they’re going to look at eligibility.

We want to talk about it now, because we think that if we take out subclause 27(3), it is going to help us bring in more magazines, as you said, Toronto Life and others that do current affairs and popular culture but also serious subjects. Yes.

Senator Simons: Mr. Fildebrandt, you were in the room when we heard the last witnesses talking about how they felt there was a need for a code of ethics. As you well know, because back when I was a journalist and you were a politician — we’ve changed roles here — it’s really important that the press be free to report without fear or favour. I realize I’m putting you in an awkward position since you have stated very plainly here that you do not wish for the help of Bill C-18, but what challenges do you perceive in your new role as a journalist with the idea of the CRTC deciding who is legitimate and who is not?

Mr. Fildebrandt: Thank you, senator. We already have so-called qualified Canadian journalism organization status. I applied for it as a joke, just to see what had happened. I had no intention of accepting the subsidies, but we did get them. The kind lady from CRTC asked if we needed any help filling out the forms for the different subsidies, and I said no; it was all a gag, and I thanked the CRTC for it. There are challenges —

Senator Simons: You mean the CRA, the Canada Revenue Agency, right?

Mr. Fildebrandt: Yes, forgive me. The CRA, not the CRTC. There are challenges. Advertising —

The Chair: I hate to cut you off, Mr. Fildebrandt, but I have the unenviable task of being the gatekeeper today. Freedom has its limits in the Senate.


Senator Cormier: My question is for Mr. Lapierre and Ms. Doucet. Under the current bill, how many magazines would be eligible? If your proposed amendments to clauses 27 and 31 were accepted, how many more magazines would be eligible, in figures?

Mr. Lapierre: We can get back to you with the exact numbers, but I would say it would be the majority. Right now, it’s a minority because of the eligibility issue, but the majority would be eligible under the amendments that are being proposed.

Senator Cormier: You want the provision in subclause 27(3) of the bill regarding the exclusion of specialized magazines removed. Briefly explain why.

Ms. Doucet: We think that the press in general, the print media cover a subject and magazines are about a subject. They both talk about the same things because you’re going to read a newspaper and the newspaper is going to talk about sports, entertainment and all kinds of things. It doesn’t make sense to cut magazines out of this law because they cover topics in more depth or in a more specific way.

Senator Cormier: Okay, thank you. Mr. Fildebrandt, you explained your funding model. When I was looking at your website, I saw that you have ads from Take Back Alberta, from Bitcoin Well, from Market Place Commodities, from Ms. Smith’s party, the United Conservatives. At how much do you estimate the revenue you receive from advertising and at how much do you estimate the revenue you receive from subscriptions?


Mr. Fildebrandt: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the translation for the last part of your question.

Senator Cormier: I want to know exactly how to evaluate the amount of money you get from advertising and from subscriptions.

Mr. Fildebrandt: Our revenue is split. It varies month-to-month, but on average we’re roughly 50% subscriptions, 50% advertising. It has fluctuated over time. It has taken us a long time to build up our capacity to sell advertising.

I’m not entirely without sympathy for media that have talked about the collapse of the advertising model. When we first started the Western Standard, we tried building Google ads that auto-populate from Google, and they just paid pennies on the dollar. It wasn’t worth it. It made the website look ugly and made us virtually no money, so we took them out. We had to painstakingly, over a few years, build our ability to directly sell ads to customers, and that’s very difficult work. I hate it. It’s really hard to find people who are good at that, but it is necessary for media to do if they want to have any advertising.

Conversely, we absolutely need subscriptions. It’s roughly 50% of our revenue. We refer to it as memberships, but it’s the same thing as subscriptions. Not to make this a commercial, but it’s $10 a month. We have a limited paywall mechanism in place so that we’re able, between those two sources, to fund our operations.


Senator Cormier: Depending on the type of advertising you display, you have complete journalistic independence even if the United Conservatives buy advertising from you. You are not constrained by the fact that you do business with certain advertisers.


Mr. Fildebrandt: No. I’ll sell ads to Saudi Arabia if they are willing to pay our posted rate. We’ve offered to sell ads to the Alberta New Democratic Party and other smaller political parties. We have private business and not-for-profit organizations that advertise.

Now, Senator Simons and others here who have been around the business know that you have to do your very best to try to have a firewall in place between your advertisers and your newsrooms. As most journalists will know, this particularly the case in smaller publications where there are not hundreds of people in a building where you can physically separate each other. Back in the 1990s the advertising department would never meet the news department. You have to try your very best to have a firewall in place. It is impossible to separate it 100%. Any publisher who tells you otherwise is probably lying, which is one reason that direct government funding of the media is so dangerous.

Now, the proposal in Bill C-18 to bring in tech giants funding the media is dangerous because then we’ll have these — no one advertiser, for us, makes up a critical portion of our revenue. The government is making up 33% now.

Senator Cormier: I don’t want you to be cut off by the chair. I want to thank you for your answer.

Senator Cardozo: I want to step back and ask you a general question. Certainly, Mr. Fildebrandt has made the case for the bill not going into effect. I’d like to get, Mr. Jamison, your thoughts about what the future of your media is in this world of online media and artificial intelligence.


Ms. Doucet, what is the future of your media in the world, in the world of online media and artificial intelligence?

We could start with Mr. Jamison.


You first, please, give a larger picture of what’s happening if this bill doesn’t go into effect.

Mr. Jamison: We’ll see continued decline and continued loss of papers in many of our communities. There are a lot of operations that are running on the ragged edge as it is. Without more intervention we will continue to see a decline in advertising, an increasing cost of production in the physical world of putting out newspapers and more closures.

We need to bear in mind when we look at a lot of our membership, we’re secondary or tertiary sources of news in the world. People are looking at The Globe and Mail or The New York Times for that very high-level national and international coverage. Then you get into the provincial side of things. Then you get down to your local community. We’re all fighting for attention, people’s limited attention spans. It makes it especially difficult as you start serving smaller and smaller communities.

It’s difficult to understand how that’s going to affect us other than the proliferation of content and the difficulties it’s going to cause reporting in sussing out what is and isn’t true, especially when you get into generative AI video and whatnot. It’s going to make reporting more difficult and create more content for people to have to sift through.

Senator Cardozo: What do you make of the dinosaur argument? I don’t mean to be rude, but some will say you’re dinosaurs and we should just let you go.

Mr. Jamison: This is where people need to spend time and look at what people are doing. Many of our members have digital agencies and operations. They run in both worlds, much like many successful models that we see; for example, The Globe and Mail still prints papers and is also very successful on the digital side.

It’s a matter of serving your readers wherever they are. If we thought we could get away with just digital, I wouldn’t go through the headache of having to print and distribute newspapers every day; it’s a major challenge and expense. In the digital world, it’s very difficult to obtain enough advertising revenue, especially in smaller markets.

Going back to how Bill C-18 is going to fund small publishers, we are not high traffic. When we’re writing about what is happening in the town of Bonnyville, Alberta, it’s generally only the people in Bonnyville, Alberta who are interested in that. However, it’s important information to those people in that community. We’re not trying to reach the broad Canadian audience.

Senator Cardozo: I’m going to cut you off before the chair does.

Ms. Doucet?


Ms. Doucet: I think we share the same views, in the sense that we don’t know what’s going to be true and what’s not.

I’ll tell you what I’m concerned about — and this won’t answer your question entirely — is that I saw that in The Canadian Press, for example, there were now Meta grants, and that scares me. Because a Meta grant is like Facebook already being in our lives and even in The Canadian Press. So I would rather see grants from the CRTC or an independent fund.

I think newspapers and magazines are still going to be around, as we’re all in a transformation phase. I think everyone has two models: the digital model, like we were talking about, and the paper model. We know that not all Canadian citizens are perfectly digitally savvy, we still have to think about our world, about people who can either access digital media or are still using paper media. That’s it.

Mr. Lapierre: If I may add something, you have to think that “dinosaur” models work. First, they don’t work anymore and second, I would tell you that the majority of these “dinosaurs” have tried to migrate to digital and that brings issues that are perhaps disconcerting. We’re moving to business models and for those who operate those business models — for our publishers, in the coalition, I can guarantee you it’s a two-tier model, it’s a paper and digital model, and we’re also getting into digital-only models — it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be able to juggle those two models.

If I move very quickly to the artificial intelligence model, as you mentioned, it’s happening with frightening speed. You hear news, as you mentioned, that a 136-page magazine was created in five days. Publishers won’t hire people anymore, they’re only going to use these technologies. It’s the speed that’s the scariest part because it’s happening now. If we wait, in a few years it will already be too late.

What’s scary for our publishers is the speed of the uptake of this technology; I think we should be careful about that.


Senator Harder: My question is to Mr. Jamison as well.

Before I ask my question, the previous panel — and you, in your commentary — expressed concern that the small, ethnic or rural newspapers and media may be disadvantaged in a program such as the one we’re discussing.

I want to put on the record that in Australia — which is the basis of this, although it is what somewhat adjusted — there are large organizations that did not succeed in reaching agreements and small organizations that did.

If you look at the highest per-journalist payment, it was to Country Press Australia, which has 180 rural newspapers and publications. That organization gained the largest proportion of subsidy per journalist. On the record, I think it’s important for us not just to look at the big numbers but at the implications of the process that, hopefully, we’ll be able to put in place.

My question, Mr. Jamison, is the following: Could you describe in a little more detail than you did to my colleague Senator Cardozo the drop in revenue that you’ve experienced? You’ve expressed concern for the time it will take to implement this regime should Parliament pass it. I would like to have commentary from you as to what the pace of decline is and how we could shorten the introduction of these measures. Even if we don’t manage them as a Senate individually, we can collectively underscore to the government the importance of moving faster than inertia.

Mr. Jamison: Yes. I don’t have the exact numbers sitting in front of me, but we can gather it. There has been a rate of decline over many years, more than a decade.

We have seen online classifieds being one of the first things that were really hit and so on and so forth as things have gone over the years. We’ve seen an industry that has been decimated over a very long period of time, one that has been grappling and adjusting over time, one that has been experimenting with new advertising models and different ways of doing things.

We’ve seen a lot of members disappear. Mr. Merrell might be able to give us an exact number. Our association used to have over 120 members, but now we are just over 90. Some of that is the result of aggregation of small towns into regional titles and some is the result of things disappearing over time.

With the Australian side, no one really knows. This is the big problem. There is great uncertainty as to what this means to small publishers. From what we know about offers and deals that have been made already is that they are generally built around traffic. The online platforms generally work around traffic — selling ads against many eyeballs.

Small newspaper sites don’t drive a lot of traffic. Like I was saying before, it’s about what’s of interest to the local community. We serve local communities; we’re not trying to reach very broad audiences across Canada or even a province.

There is just great uncertainty as to what this actually means. When we look at some of the forecasts that have been done for Canada, because the legislation is a bit different, I believe the platforms are probably going to treat this a bit differently as they look at their exposure across many jurisdictions. It’s not just Canada and Australia looking at this; it’s California and also many countries across the world.

As Mr. Fildebrandt said and as has been indicated by their own witness testimony, the platforms will walk away from news and they’re also going to try to drive much harder bargains. They’re looking at how much this is going to cost them across the world as this type of legislation rolls out and becomes extremely expensive.

We just don’t know how that’s going to affect us. The deals we’re able to achieve might be quite a bit different than what’s been seen in Australia.

Dennis Merrell, Executive Director, Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association: Just to put some numbers to the question from Senator Harder, as Mr. Jamison mentioned, the decline has been slow and steady over the past 10 to 12 years. As an example, our association has been involved in what we describe as national advertising that we place in the newspapers. From 2010 to 2012, it would have been about $14 million annually. Today, it’s maybe $1 to $2 million. In terms of that form of advertising, the decline has probably been 70% or 80%.

Locally, I hear from publishers that it’s probably more like 30% to 50%, but they’re still operating on far less today than they were even a few years ago.

So it’s pretty dire, as Evan pointed out.

Senator Dasko: My first question is for Ms. Doucet and Mr. Lapierre.

This is just a point of clarification. Are you asking for all magazines to be covered in this bill or just for some? If it’s just for some, which ones? Just describe that, because I’m not exactly clear.

Ms. Doucet: We have the law — how it’s proposed — but we know for the first criteria when we talk about —


I will answer in French, as it will be easier for me. When we talk about taxation, it is quite easy to come up with a list of eligible companies, because we think that there are fewer than 10. We can’t provide all the information because some of it is confidential, but we can say that there are fewer than 10 eligible businesses. For example, if subclause 27(3) was removed, magazines could be added...


Senator Dasko: Can you just describe rather than talk about clauses? Do you want all magazines or just some? If you could just describe which ones — which types.

Ms. Doucet: Of course. Thank you.

I spoke about Protégez-Vous, for example, which is a magazine that talks about consumer affairs — what kind of laundry machine you should buy or whatever. So it’s really a consumer affairs magazine. It doesn’t deal with opinions; it really deals with facts and logic.

I talked about Québec Science because it is one of the magazines that is really important for young people and to get people interested in science.

Maybe you have other examples.

Mr. Lapierre: We do have other examples, but to your question, right now, a minority — less than a minority — of our members would be eligible, if eligible. Like I said to Senator Cormier, it would now be the majority.

I don’t think we want to include every single magazine that we represent, but if we can get more involved, I think it helps the industry, and it definitely helps our members.

Senator Dasko: You’re going well beyond news in terms of what you’re looking for. This is supposed to help news operations. So you’re saying any type of interest, just in general terms?

Mr. Lapierre: It goes to the definition of news and general interest content. That’s where we stand, where we go in depth on a subject. That’s our specialty with magazines.

We do cover news. A minority of our membership covers news on a day-to-day basis, but they still do it. As of right now, I don’t think they would be eligible.

Senator Dasko: But you think they should be.

Mr. Lapierre: Yes.

Senator Dasko: Let’s take Chatelaine. They have some news, but it’s almost 90% lifestyle. Do you think they should be —

Mr. Lapierre: But newspapers have different categories of content in them. You get sports in newspapers.

Senator Dasko: So you’re essentially looking to cover almost all magazines. There are a lot of magazines in this country.

Mr. Lapierre: Correct.

Ms. Doucet: We’re saying, at the present time, there is more connection than we think between magazines and news. We’re doing more and more the same thing in a different way. So we’re saying the law, as it is proposed, is too narrow to include some magazines that could be important.

I’m sorry; I don’t have the list of the 400 or less that would be eligible, but we think that if we are really talking about eligibility now, it’s another step. It’s going to be after —

Senator Dasko: Yes, I understand. Excuse me. Would a mechanics’ magazine be —

The Chair: Senator Dasko, time is up, unfortunately. I wish we had more time with this panel.

Senator Clement: Good morning, witnesses. Thank you for being here.

For full disclosure, I love dinosaurs. I was a paper girl decades ago. I delivered The Montreal Star.

My question is for the Coalition of Canadian Magazines. In my home community of Cornwall, Ontario, we have a couple of magazines, like Cornwall Living and Perch Magazine, that are a blend of news and lifestyle. They are very limited editions, so they will sit in restaurants and newsstands for the whole year. People love them. They go into depth about local issues.

Meta was here last week saying that they would cut off links to news. How does that impact your industry? Your industry is very important to local communities. Does what Meta said affect you? Do you have any comment on that?

Mr. Lapierre: Yes. I read what Meta said — a bit of a threat.

Absolutely. Publishers use those platforms, and some of that content appears on those platforms without the publishers posting it. So I guess a short answer would be that, yes, absolutely, it will affect them. To what extent is still to be defined, but it will definitely hurt the overall industry.


Senator Clement: Do you have anything to add?

Ms. Doucet: No, except perhaps to say that the news giants should not be managing our news and magazines and what is done locally and nationally. It’s true that there are local magazines, but there are also local newspapers, and we support them.

Senator Clement: Thank you.


The Chair: The question I have in the few minutes that are left has to do with CBC, which gets over a billion dollars a year in government funding. Simultaneously, they compete in the same marketplace in which your magazines and your local newspapers are competing for advertising dollars. Now, we have a bill through which we are going to be giving them additional funding from digital giants in order to continue to compete. I’d like to know what your views are on that.

Mr. Fildebrandt: I have a follow-up to the question I didn’t get to complete from Senator Simons about what challenges we’re facing.

The biggest challenge, by far, that we face at the Western Standard, at least, is that our competitors are subsidized with our own tax dollars. We are a relatively small company paying taxes to Ottawa that are then redistributed to our competitors, such as CBC. I’m not going to get into what anyone thinks about CBC, but they’re clearly a competitor. While they’re technically a broadcaster, the distinctions between what is considered a broadcaster, magazine or newspaper are irrelevant today. I fought with the workers’ compensation board about whether the Western Standard was a magazine or a newspaper. Well, we’re neither. We used to be a magazine at one point, but we had a fight over it because that determined what our premiums were.

We are all the same thing. We’re all online. Some have a physical manifestation with a CRTC licence and some might have a physical print product, but you can’t tell the difference between them anymore. The CBC is not just competing with CTV and Global but also with the Edmonton Journal, the Western Standard and The Toronto Star. But then Postmedia, the Heralds, the Journals and the Suns are competing with us as well, and they are doing so by using our tax dollars against us.

Bill C-18 wouldn’t necessarily be using our tax dollars against us but it will still give a leg up to our competitors over us — theoretically, if the money is actually there. I’m skeptical that the money will be there, but I am concerned that we are going to be collateral damage in the fight between them.

If there really is anything Ottawa can do to help independent publishers, the innovative ones, the guys who are selling light bulbs, not candles, it’s to stop funding the candle industry. Stop trying to give advantages to our competitors using our own tax dollars, and let nature, let the market, sort it out.

Mr. Lapierre: I’m not here to open a debate, but some of the competitors he is talking about are my members, and they’re barely keeping their heads above water. It’s crucial for a democracy to have many voices, not just one. To me, it’s crucial to have help, to have as many voices as possible, and that’s through some funding, and —

The Chair: My question is about concentrating is so much capital into one voice. How do you help the other voices?


Ms. Doucet: I sincerely believe that CBC/Radio-Canada is very important for our democracy. This voice will remain essential as a reference for many people, for the facts, for who we are and for telling us stories.


The Chair: Mr. Jamison, I see you want to weigh in. No?

I’d like to thank our panellists for being here. It was obviously an interesting discussion. We went over our allocated time, so I thank everyone for their cooperation.

(The committee adjourned.)

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