Online News Bill

Second Reading--Debate Continued

February 9, 2023

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne

Honourable senators, I rise at second reading of Bill C-18, the online news bill. This bill is important to me personally because I spent many years in the world of journalism.

For starters, the crisis is real. Over the past 14 years, 469 newspapers and news organizations in Canada have closed up shop. The majority of the surviving media organizations have been through cuts that have eviscerated newsrooms. Bill C-18 is clearly not a solution in search of a problem. We really do have a big problem, and the government is right to tackle it.

There are many reasons for this crisis, but nearly all of them have to do with the internet revolution. Over the past 25 years, traditional media, which used to have a monopoly on broadcasting information, lost their exclusivity to multiple competitors: online ads, foreign media, government sites, streaming platforms, countless specialized sources for things like weather forecasts, sports scores and financial news, audio and video-sharing platforms, news and opinion blogs and, lastly, social media platforms, which pounded the last nail into the coffin.

Today, traditional media organizations are facing a profound crisis that affects both their profitability, now that advertisers have left, and the value they add, since so much content is available elsewhere.

Some say that the media has not been able to adapt and is simply a victim of technological change, similar to how the typewriter disappeared when computers became ubiquitous. Others add that the traditional media outlets are the victims of their own inertia and arrogance, and that they deserve their fate.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but there is some truth to that. Many didn’t see the threat coming, and for a long time, they believed that the competition from online media and social networks, sometimes called the “barbarian invasion,” had no value and would not interest anyone. Accustomed to the comfort of their monopoly, some media outlets looked down on new platforms, different models and alternative paths, and were unwilling to take a hard look at themselves, rethink their offerings and adapt.

However, that is not the whole story. Many Canadian media organizations, big and small, young and old, have been trying out innovative approaches for 20 years. In Quebec in particular, the media landscape changed dramatically with the emergence of not-for-profit agencies or cooperatives, as in the case of Les Coops de l’information. La Presse has gone exclusively digital, and the hybrid subscriber model is working for Le Devoir. Experts such as Sue Gardner and Jean-Hugues Roy have noted that a lot of experiments are under way, and even though there are no conclusive results yet, this could be the key to the solution.

However, we mustn’t confuse traditional media with journalism. We can criticize our media and also have legitimate concerns about the future of journalism. While some organizations have lost their aura and their influence, the importance of journalism has remained intact and is as big as ever.

Whether reports address the need to expose lies, scandals, corruption or cronyism, the essential character of journalism is no less great today than it was 25 years ago. In any free society, journalism is a public good that needs to be protected and supported. As the Washington Post‘s slogan goes, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

That being said, investigative work or analysis has the same public value regardless of whether it is done by CBC/Radio-Canada or by a new online journalism platform and whether it is broadcast on the radio, on television, on Twitter or on Facebook.

What is important to Canadian society is that organizations, no matter which ones, have the resources to deliver quality journalism and that the content reaches the public. In other words, Canada needs a robust and diverse news ecosystem that fulfills its role as the watchdog of democracy.

With Bill C-18, the government is proposing a response to the financial difficulties facing journalism in Canada. The government’s proposed solution is quite simple and is directly inspired by the Australian model. Given that the media have lost their advertising revenue to major platforms such as Facebook and Google, these companies should pay the media to publish their content. It is a pragmatic solution. Rich companies will support companies that have become poor.

For some, Bill C-18 is nonetheless on the wrong track because it is based on a fiction, namely, that Google and Facebook “hurt” the media by making their content available. Media expert Sue Gardner sums up this criticism well:

. . . that premise makes no sense. We know that because news publishers have always been able to opt out of appearing in Google search results, and they don’t. In fact they do the opposite: they vigorously compete to maximize their presences on Google and on Facebook. News publishers want to appear on those platforms, because that’s where people are finding news.

For these critics, the reality is that Google and Facebook offer their users a huge variety of content — of which the media is only a small portion — and the media profit more from the platforms’ referencing than the latter profits from news content. It is possible, but nobody knows. The figures are not public.

The solution for some media experts would be to tax Google and Facebook and set up an independent fund to support journalism.

In an ideal world, setting up a fund would be an easier option, but in reality this is not the avenue the government has chosen for reasons that have to do, apparently, with our trade agreements. As senators, we are called upon to vote on the bill before us. It is possible to improve it, but impossible to rewrite it in such a fundamental way.

I see a number of issues to be addressed in our review of Bill C-18.

First, there is a fundamental question of the expectations of the parties. For large digital platforms, negotiations should focus on the commercial value of the content and services exchanged. In other words, what is the value of news content for Google and Facebook, and how much revenue do those platforms generate for news organizations? For the media, on the other hand, the logic seems different. Some consider that the major platforms should finance up to 30% of their operating costs. This approach is more likely a subsidy than a commercial deal.

To align the expectations of the parties in future negotiations, it would be useful to clarify the objectives of the bill.

Then there is the issue of eligible media. Amendments in the House of Commons have already broadened the admissibility criteria to include small, non-profit community and Indigenous outlets, including those owned by journalists. These broadened criteria mean that we went from about 200 to more than 650 organizations potentially admissible under Bill C-18. This is a welcome expansion because the important thing is to support journalism no matter where it is practised, and not to support only mainstream media. On the other hand, we must ensure that by broadening the scope, we do not open the door to people who do not practise real journalism, but who focus instead on lobbying, fictional or intimate narratives, personal growth or entertainment.

Questions also arise regarding the platforms targeted by Bill C-18. Even though the definition of “digital news intermediary” in the law is very broad, we know that it only covers Facebook and Google at the moment. But we also have to think about the future. Already, Facebook is threatening to block the sharing of Canadian news on its platform if Bill C-18 is adopted. If Facebook carries out the threat, will the bill only target Google? In that case, will this new financing mechanism for Canadian media depend on only one foreign platform? This would be a peculiar situation.

It will also be important to consider the use of funds received by the media. This is a very delicate question, because the government does not want to interfere too much in what it presents as private negotiations. This is a consequence of the approach adopted. That said, the bill won’t be of great assistance to journalism as a public good if the amounts received from Google and Facebook are directed to shareholders or interest payments rather than to hiring journalists, upgrading platforms and to conduct investigations. Much more transparency is needed in this bill.

Questions also arise about the long-term viability of an approach that makes Canadian media partially dependent on foreign private companies that can change or disappear at any time.

In conclusion, Bill C-18 addresses an issue that has a real impact on the democratic health of our country.

Today, even innovative new platforms can’t be profitable without public support, with some exceptions. Excluding CBC/Radio-Canada, many newsrooms are hanging on by a thread.

The Transport and Communications Committee, of which I am a member, will have its work cut out for it. We will have to come to grips with the implications and its limitations of the bill, and perhaps suggest improvements. As with Bill C-11, Bill C-18 is a legislative foray into the ever-changing world of the internet. In the medium term, it is difficult to assess the impact of the measures being put forward. There will inevitably be a process of trial and error, and adjustments will be necessary. However, in my opinion, this effort is certainly more commendable than inaction.

Thank you.

Hon. Leo Housakos [ - ]

Would Senator Miville-Dechêne take a question?

Senator Miville-Dechêne


Senator Housakos [ - ]

Thank you. I’ll try to cobble my three questions together as we have discussed them. The jury is still out for me on this particular bill. I appreciate the objective that the government has. I think we all understand how important free and democratic journalism is to our democracy.

My three questions are the following: First, what would you say to the critics who say journalists have a choice to post their products online and on the web or not to post them?

Second, we already have copyright laws in this country, of course, that protect content creators if somebody steals their material.

The third question is an analogy that Senator Harder didn’t like, but maybe I’ll get a better answer from you. I feel this bill is the equivalent of somebody jumping in an Uber, going to a particular restaurant for a meal, and then the restaurant saying, “I want a percentage of the fare of the Uber, as well, that brought you here, because if I wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be in business.”

Can I have your thoughts on all three of those perspectives, which, of course, are views from critics on the bill?

Senator Miville-Dechêne

First of all, Senator Housakos, journalists do have a choice of whether or not to post their articles online.

I know that you believe very strongly in the principle of individual choice. However, we are talking here about a complete paradigm shift. That means that if media outlets don’t allow their articles to be shared, then they lose a lot of readers. It’s a bit of a paradox because the survival of journalism depends in part on really solid content, the kind of journalism that is different from what circulates on social media.

We know that stand-alone, isolated media outlets will not be able to reach enough people. They are therefore obligated, in this new universe, to make their content available by agreeing to share it. The real problem is that we don’t know how much that journalistic content is worth to a platform like Google. Of course, Google won’t give us its figures. As a result, it is extremely difficult to implement a bill like this one, which seeks to put a value on journalistic content, because we have no idea how much that content is worth to the platforms or what it brings to individual media outlets.

We know they no longer get any advertising revenues because the entire advertising market has been picked up by the platforms, but we don’t know whether that could make a difference in terms of traffic. For example, people from the daily newspaper La Presse told me that they were bringing in decent advertising revenues. It wasn’t a windfall, but they had what they needed to survive. That’s why everyone wants to be on social media. Did you have another question?

Senator Housakos [ - ]

And what about copyright protection?

Senator Miville-Dechêne

To my knowledge, since this crisis began, the Copyright Act has not been enforced in relation to articles that are shared because, yes, links are often shared. I don’t think the Copyright Act is the appropriate mechanism to protect journalism. I know this mechanism is used in France. We’ve been much more inspired by the Australian model, which has been successful in mitigating the crisis to some extent. We noticed that in Australia —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator, are you asking for five more minutes?

Senator Miville-Dechêne


The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Senator Miville-Dechêne

Australia certainly isn’t a perfect model, but we noticed that journalists were hired there after the secret agreements that Google and Facebook unfortunately reached with media outlets. We also noticed that, according to some sources, larger media organizations have more money than small ones but that small community media organizations received some money.

As for the Uber that gets you to the restaurant, I tend to agree with Senator Harder because I’m not convinced that’s a good analogy for what’s really happening. There is an exchange, but we don’t really know if the value of journalism to these platforms is equal or unequal to the value journalists derive from being broadcast on these platforms.

Senator Housakos [ - ]

If I understand correctly, senator, you’re essentially saying that journalists need these platforms in order to magnify their work and have more reach. By the same token, they would like to quantify how much monetization is out there in order for them to get their share. That’s the problem.

This is where I’m not quite sure if this bill achieves that goal, and I’m not quite sure how you actually put a number on it.

To go back to copyright, my understanding — I’m not a copyright expert — is the moment the journalist puts out — into the public sphere — their article, for example, then they’ve made it public. It’s being disseminated on all these platforms with their consent because, to your point, they want to magnify their article.

In both those cases, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You either jump into that milieu or you don’t — where I come from.

Senator Miville-Dechêne

In a nutshell, we don’t know the value of this content shared on the internet.

As we speak, a lot of private deals are being struck between Google and certain Canadian media outlets. We don’t know the value of these contracts, but we do know that Google, faced with the “threat” of the coming law, is making deals with the media. The fact that Google is doing this means that it sees value in doing it. In our capitalist world, few private companies make deals if they don’t feel the need to do so.

In a way, the platforms are admitting that this journalistic content has value. Based on the rumours we’ve heard, we know that most of the agreements currently require the payment of 30% of the cost pertaining to journalists, based on the number of journalists on staff.

Still, you’re quite right in saying that there is too little transparency in this bill and a lot of unknowns. At some point, the hammer will fall. The government will want to know how many agreements there are and will wonder if that is enough for the law not to apply, as was the case in Australia. Then there will be a race because Google does not want legislation, does not want arbitration and does not want agreements to be imposed either. The government is betting on the platforms — and Facebook does not seem to be doing this — signing agreements before the law goes into force, because that way, the law will not apply. That is what the Government of Australia and the Government of Canada are betting on.

Hon. Andrew Cardozo [ - ]

Thank you for your presentation, senator. My question is quite general. What will happen in 10 or 20 years if this bill is not passed?

Senator Miville-Dechêne

I can’t see into the future, but for now, the government is giving tax credits. These tax credits have helped the media outlets that survived the crisis stay afloat, but they are at their limit. Obviously, these agreements with platforms are welcome and are helping newspapers like Le Devoir prosper more than it would have otherwise. However, who says that Google will still be around in 20 years? I believe I am out of time.

Hon. Paula Simons [ - ]

Honourable senators, on January 12, Postmedia, the country’s largest newspaper chain, released its first-quarter fiscal update. The quarter begins in September and ends November 30, and it has traditionally been the most lucrative one for Canadian newspapers since it includes the back‑to-school period, Black Friday and the run-up to Christmas. But, this quarter, Postmedia’s numbers were bleak — a net loss of $15.9 million.

Twelve days later, the other shoe dropped. The company announced that it would be laying off 11% of its editorial staff across the chain. That means paring already gutted newsrooms right down to the bare bones.

Those cuts weren’t the only blow. Staff at the biggest Prairie newspapers — the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun; the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun; and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post — were told that they would never come back to their once-vibrant newsrooms again. The newsrooms have closed. The few staff remaining will work from home, as they have been since the start of the pandemic.

The Calgary Herald building, a hilltop landmark, has been sold to U-Haul. It’s almost too on the nose to be real. The Saskatoon and Regina buildings are also for sale.

Now, Postmedia has a complicated lease agreement, which means it can’t divest itself of its Edmonton site so easily. For now, the elegant five-storey building, which sits on one of downtown Edmonton’s most historic corners, stands empty and abandoned — a ghostly reminder of the days when newspapers were powerful forces for community and democratic good.

Of course, it’s not only Prairie papers that are in trouble. Postmedia papers in St. Thomas, Sarnia and Owen Sound, Ontario, are now publishing only three days a week. And just this week came the parallel announcement that New Brunswick’s major papers — the Telegraph-Journal, Moncton’s Times & Transcript and Fredericton’s Daily Gleaner — would be daily no more, publishing only thrice weekly.

These papers — like so many across the world — have had their economic model derailed by digital disruption. Their advertisers, large and small, have moved to online sites, such as Craigslist, Kijiji, Autotrader, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Google and Facebook. Their subscribers have stopped paying — either because they were happy to get their news for free online, or because they could no longer see the value in paying more and more for papers that were shrinking and shrinking each passing year. More than that, local newspapers are facing fierce online competition for their readers’ attention. Once upon a time, papers had regional monopolies — not just on advertising, but on our time and our interest.

Today, Canadians can access the news of the world in real time, whether their tastes run to The Guardian, Le Monde and The Washington Post, or to Fox News and the Daily Mail. Whatever your taste, there’s a news site for you. You are no longer limited to getting your news from your daily paper, your hometown radio station or your local supper-hour TV newscast.

Meanwhile, new digital competitors are popping up across the country trying to serve readers who are interested in specific topics or specific points of view. Many of these publish award‑winning journalism about the climate — about Parliament, about social and technological issues — but they have a reach and an ecumenicism that they cannot match that of the broadsheet daily paper.

In some ways, Canadians have never had as many options to be informed. Information from around the world is literally at our fingertips. But, in other ways, we have never known less about what is going on in our own cities and towns without local reporters to cover city council and school board meetings, without local investigative journalists digging into local scandals, without local feature writers telling local stories.

And so now we have before us Bill C-18, which is designed to throw a lifeline to struggling news sites, large and small, all across the country. The premise is deceptively, intoxicatingly simple. Google and Facebook have lots of money. As Senator Miville-Dechêne has told us, they have pockets full of it. They dominate the Canadian advertising economy. The government estimates that those two companies alone command 80% of Canada’s advertising market, and they surely share links to Canadian news sites — links they don’t pay for. So why not ask them to pony up to support the newspapers, newscasts and news sites because advertising revenues have evaporated?

The bill requires Facebook and Google to enter into negotiations with news organizations: from the very largest, to tiny papers with owner operators, to Indigenous and campus radio stations. If they can reach private agreements, they will be exempted from the bill’s provisions. But if those exemptions are not granted, companies will be required to enter into binding, final offer arbitration.

It’s a tempting proposition, especially when promises are being thrown about that Bill C-18 will force Google and Facebook to pay for 20 to 30, even — as Senator Harder suggested this week; the first I have heard that number — a full 35% of the operating costs of Canadian newsrooms. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, perhaps more modestly, has estimated that the program should bring in about $329.2 million a year.

But the idea that we can or should force two American tech giants to underwrite the independent news upon which Canadians rely is a logical and ethical fallacy. The bill seems premised on a core proposition that the reason print media outlets have lost their revenues is that Google and Facebook are somehow stealing news stories and then monetizing them to sell ads, but this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how digital advertising markets work.

Facebook’s algorithm privileges content that generates engagement, and a story about the Kamloops school board or a Senate debate isn’t sexy or juicy enough to do the job. Sadly, yes. A 2021 study for Nieman Lab found that less than 4% of posts viewed in the Facebook news feed actually linked to news stories, and since then Facebook — pivoting to video to fend off the challenge of TikTok — has retooled its algorithm to show people even less news.

Jean-Hugues Roy, Professor of Journalism and Media Economics at Université du Québec à Montréal, estimates that Facebook made $198.8 million in revenues stemming from Canadian journalistic content in 2022, but that was actually down from $210 million in 2021.

Professor Roy posits that, of that sum, about $99.4 million could be shared with the Canadian news industry. But even that rather rosy estimate will be far from enough to subsidize the costs of newsrooms across the country — and especially not if that sum keeps declining.

For its part, Google doesn’t post ads on its news site at all. Google News makes no money. It’s really there as a loss leader to keep people on the site longer.

It’s not that Google and Facebook benefit hugely from sharing news: They get little or no direct economic benefit from sharing news content.

Google and Facebook are advertising behemoths who dominate the internet and the advertising market with an unrivalled and unprecedented power. According to the Transnational Institute, in 2021 Google was the most visited website in the world, with monthly traffic of 92.5 billion visits. YouTube, which is owned by Google, is the second most visited site, with 34.6 billion monthly visits. Facebook comes third, with 25.5 billion visitors a month.

The only Canadian website that ranks in the top 20? Pornhub, with 3.3 billion visitors a month, gives them the peculiar distinction of attracting more views than Reddit or Bing.

Yes, Google and Facebook have a stranglehold on eyeballs and advertisers. I’m not asking for you to sympathize with them. I’m just asking whether it’s sensible to demand that they underwrite Canadian newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and news sites, including tiny websites whose work is almost never shared or indexed on those social media platforms at all.

More than that, I’m asking if it’s wise. How independent can the Canadian news media be if they are so deeply beholden to the goodwill and future economic success of two foreign corporations?

Back in June 2021 when we were debating Senator Carignan’s Bill S-225, a bill with parallels to Bill C-18, our Transportation and Communications Committee heard from the witness Edward Greenspon, the former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, who was by then the President and CEO of the Public Policy Forum.

Here’s what Mr. Greenspon told us in 2021:

. . . inviting the platforms to negotiate deals with individual publishers can badly distort the information marketplace. People have expressed concerns for decades that advertisers influence news agendas. In fact, it was rare to find an advertiser that had enough of a market share, more than 1% or 2% of a publisher’s total revenues, to do so. In contrast, I can well imagine a platform accounting for 10% or more of a news organization’s revenue under this system. They have massive public policy agendas of their own, including tax policy, regulatory oversight, data, et cetera.

He went on to warn us, “You are here to strengthen the independent press, not to create new dependencies.”

We should heed his advice now. With Bill C-18 we are creating an even greater economic dependence and giving Google and Facebook even more power than they already have over what we read and what we see — and, indeed, what we think.

The mechanisms proposed in Bill C-18 render us even more vulnerable to their corporate decisions, decisions over which Canadians will have absolutely no control.

As we watch the slow-motion meltdown of Twitter, accelerated this week, it seems to me naive — nay, foolhardy — to assume that Google and Facebook will be golden geese whose golden eggs can sustain our free press in perpetuity. If and when Google and Facebook are no longer cool or fashionable or trustworthy, where will that leave us?

I have many other questions about the bill as we move toward committee study. Realistically, how much will small, rural and ethnocultural or Indigenous papers and radio stations actually benefit from this program even if they negotiate collectively? How much should we want to subsidize large players such as Rogers or Bell Media or failing legacy firms like Postmedia, especially if that makes it harder for innovative start-ups to compete with them?

What guarantees do we have that companies will spend their subsidies to increase news coverage as a net increase as opposed to paying down debt or rewarding their executives? Is it reasonable, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated, for CBC and Radio-Canada — already funded by the government — to receive, by far, the largest share of this new money? What will be the impact on our respect for copyright law and the principles of fair use and to our obligation under the Berne Convention, given Bill C-18’s somewhat cavalier hand waving away of traditional copyright protocols?

And are we comfortable giving unprecedented new regulatory powers to the CRTC to intervene in the business of print journalism and to require mandatory media codes of ethics, given the free press has never before been subject in any way to the authority of the CRTC?

My friends, I was a professional journalist in this country for 30 years. I believe that responsible journalism is essential to the health of a civil society. It’s easy to look at the crisis in Canadian journalism and exclaim, “Something must be done!”

Well, this is something, but what will it actually do? Not, I fear, what we would like.

Thank you, hiy hiy.

Hon. Colin Deacon [ - ]

Would my seatmate kindly take a question?

Senator Simons [ - ]

I would be delighted to take a question. We’ll pop like jack-in-the-boxes.

Senator C. Deacon [ - ]

I wonder if you have thought at all about how new online platforms like The Logic, BetaKit or investigative journalism platforms that deliver podcasts, like Canadaland — how those sorts of models fit into the world that Bill C-18 imagines, because they seem to be fighting their own fight in a dramatically different media landscape. I just wonder if you have contemplated that. Thank you.

Senator Simons [ - ]

I have contemplated it long and hard. Here is the challenge: Many of these small independent sites are struggling for market share both in terms of readers and advertisers because they are competing with the legacy dinosaurs, shall we say.

There is a strong argument to be made that if you prop up traditional broadsheet newspapers with a failing business model, you will inhibit the capacity of new competitors to come into the marketplace. On the other hand, as I said in my speech, some of those new competitors serve rather niche markets and do not give the broad community coverage that a local daily newspaper did. I’m very torn and I think those companies are too. Some of them initially came out quite critically of Bill C-18 and the premise that they will have to somehow band together — because there are no newspaper unions in this country. They will have to find other similarly situated companies and come together as a collective and then go together to negotiate with Facebook and Google.

How will they pull those collectives together? Do they have the legal bench strength to go toe to toe with two of the world’s largest corporations? It is a very interesting question.

Some of those small publications have already made successful deals with Google — more with Google than with Facebook — but they have made successful deals to showcase their work. Whether those deals are going to get ripped up now and whether Google and Facebook are actually going to be less likely to be supportive are very good questions. We just do not know yet.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator Simons, your time has expired. Are you requesting five minutes to answer more questions?

Senator Simons [ - ]

I would love another five minutes, with the indulgence of the chamber.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Do we have an agreement for five minutes?

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne

I will be brief. I admire your rather purist vision of journalism. You are right in saying that it is dangerous to take money from large, extremely powerful platforms, but I think we are already beyond that point since journalism in this country is receiving funding from the government. The government is no doubt the most heavily criticized entity in Canada, and now it is giving the media money.

As far as principles go, how is it any different to accept money from platforms that earn some money through journalism?

Senator Simons [ - ]

That is a very good question. I wish I could answer in French, but I think it would be better for everyone if I answered in English. It will be easier for both of us.

You are right. I have also been critical of the idea of the government funding journalism through the local journalism fund.

It is a very difficult proposition to have an independent press that is reliant on government subsidies, no matter how arm’s-length they are.

It is also very problematic to have newspapers be so dependent upon two corporations instead of on the traditional subscriber base and traditional advertisers.

I have spoken with academics such as Vivek Krishnamurthy at the University of Ottawa, who suggests that the more appropriate model would have been tax credits — very robust and generous tax credits, so that if you subscribe to a Canadian publication, online or in print, you would get money back. And if you were an advertiser and you placed your advertising in your local weekly newspaper or your local daily newspaper or on your local radio station, you might also get a subsidy back from that. That would allow consumers of news and purchasers of advertising to vote with their eyes and vote with their feet and have there be a direct correlation between what people want to read and what people want to support and getting money back from the government so that it sort of — it washes the money, like Pontius Pilate.

We have painted ourselves into this corner. I have spoken recently with publishers of small-town community newspapers who are in despair because one of the bread-and-butters of their market was that the local town would advertise in the local paper. If you had a bylaw hearing, if you were announcing some city change, the town spent money in the local town paper. Now they do not do that. They buy a much cheaper ad online or they don’t even buy an ad; they just make a post on Facebook. As a result, if we do not support our local media, it dies. If we are going to make a choice in this country that we do not care about having local news, then that is exactly what we’ll end up with, with no local news.

I also met a couple of weeks ago with Jordan Bitove, the new owner and publisher of The Toronto Star, a very big name in the Toronto business community, who said that he is knocking on the door of the big banks and the big car companies, saying, “Hey, put your display advertising back in the paper because if you don’t, there won’t be a paper.”

We have choices to make too, and I’m not sure that we have made the right ones.

Hon. Pamela Wallin [ - ]

I just have a quick comment, really, in response to some of your comments. Of course, we’ll discuss this endlessly at committee.

Speaking with local newspapers in my area, I heard that one of the things that troubles them is that while government, on the one hand, has agreed to pay them money, therefore compromising independence, they have also stopped 100% of their advertising in these local papers, which was a genuine and arm’s-length source of income. So if they wanted to support these news operations in small communities, they do have a mechanism.

Senator Simons [ - ]

What I heard from small publishers is that they would like changes in the mailing rate to make it easier to mail out their weekly papers. They are also really frustrated because Canada Post is outcompeting them in the flyer business. Now, flyers are not sexy, but they were the economic backbone of a lot of newspapers large and small, and what I hear from newspaper publishers is that Canada Post gives such great rates that the newspapers cannot compete. Now, Canada Post has a right to compete in the marketplace, but again, we have to consider the consequences of all these decisions.

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