Justin Trudeau says he’s pissed off about the layoffs and Bell Media, well I’m pissed off at Justin Trudeau – and everyone who cares about Canadian media should be as well.
While the Prime Minister likes to say he values journalists and media companies, he’s enacted many policies that continue to harm the industry.
Trudeau is getting praise for his emotional, over the top, well-rehearsed, dramatic reaction to Bell’s job cuts. What you learn from covering Trudeau, though, is that when he acts like that – and it is acting – there’s probably a reason that isn’t the issue he’s talking about.
“We need those local voices, and over the past years, corporate Canada – and there are many culprits on this – have abdicated their responsibilities toward the communities that they have always made very good profits off of,” Trudeau said Friday in the wake of Bell Media announcing plans to cut 4,800 jobs.
“So yeah, I’m pretty pissed off,” he added.
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A few things about this.
Trudeau didn’t react this way when CBC announced 800 jobs were being eliminated just a few months ago. He didn’t react like this when his favourite newspaper, the Toronto Star, laid off more than 600 people and shut down print operations of several community newspapers.
Nope, in those instances, and when Postmedia – parent company to this newspaper – shed jobs, there were crickets, Trudeau wasn’t feigning outrage.
Secondly, as former Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has pointed out, job cuts of this magnitude would require a company like Bell to give 16 weeks notice unless it received a waiver from the government. I can’t confirm that a waiver was given but I can confirm Bell briefed the government ahead of time and that the company had been blunt with government for some time about problems they were facing.
Trudeau went over the top on these job cuts, which are mostly not media jobs, because he’s had a bad few weeks since Parliament came back and he needed good headlines. Journalists like writing stories beating up on media companies and touting how important their jobs are.
Well, it worked, and Trudeau got the headlines. But let’s look at his own record on policy for the media.
The ham-fisted approach to C-18 saw Facebook leave the news industry in Canada, the only place the company has done so. This hurts all media companies but especially the younger news media companies that relied on Facebook and Instagram to spread their content.
Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Pascale St. Onge were unnecessarily antagonistic to both Facebook and Google and nearly blew the whole thing. They did blow it with Facebook.
Secondly, while saying these companies take too many advertising dollars, 71% of all federal ad dollars went to digital – mainly Google and Facebook – for the 2022-23 fiscal year that ended in March 2023. Of the $67 million the feds spent, $48 million went to digital with Facebook taking $6.8 million and Google taking $8.5 million for search engine advertising.
As the owner of YouTube, Google would have taken a significant portion of the $24.5 million the Government of Canada spent on what they call “display programmatic and non-programmatic” advertising.
By comparison, the government spent $9.9 million on TV ads, $5.6 on billboard and out-of-home ads like bus shelters, $2.6 million on radio and just $944,602 on print.
Trudeau doesn’t put his money where his mouth is and neither does his Liberal Party, which spends millions with the tech giants.
At the same time, the Trudeau Liberals always find ways to give CBC more money while the state broadcaster competes for viewers, talent and ad revenue with the private media companies. Trudeau’s government could follow the lead of the Brits who banned BBC from showing display ads on their online content within Britain, which would help struggling media companies, but he won’t.
If he wanted to support Canadian media companies, he would be overhauling the CRTC and stripping away the arcane rules and procedures that came from another era, aren’t relevant anymore but still increase costs for every operator.
Instead, he’s given the CRTC more power, this time to regulate the internet in ways that actual creators trying to find a new way to be successful online didn’t ask for and, in fact, spoke up against.
So yeah, as Trudeau would say, I’m pretty pissed off.
The Prime Minister wants to make it sound like he cares and that he is a defender of this industry when, really, he’s part of the problem.