Unifor President Jerry Dias makes his way to speak to the press in Toronto on Friday, August 25, 2017. The federal government is coming under fresh pressure to find solutions for Canada’s ailing newspaper industry following an announcement today that dozens of community and daily newspapers across the country will soon close their doors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Feds face pressure to help newspaper industry

The federal government faces new pressure to help hobbled newspaper industry amid more shutdowns

Ottawa is coming under fresh pressure to find a way to save the ailing Canadian newspaper industry, although the Liberals remain steadfast in their argument that the solution lies in the transition to digital platforms and more viable business models.

Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. announced Monday they will cut nearly 300 jobs as they plan to shutter more than 30 newspapers across the country, with most of the dailies and community weeklies affected based in Ontario.

RELATED: Torstar, Postmedia newspaper closures aim to cut competition

“It’s absolutely brutal,” Canadian union leader Jerry Dias said Monday as he urged federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly to protect print journalism.

Earlier this year, a major report from the Public Policy Forum called for a sales tax on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions in Canada and a $400-million fund to help finance reliable news and information. The Canadian Press participated in the roundtables and research.

And in June, the House of Commons heritage committee also issued recommendations on how to save the industry, including a five-year tax credit to compensate print outlets for a portion of their digital investments.

But in September, Joly unveiled a cultural strategy that was criticized by industry experts for lacking measures that could have given a boost to struggling newspapers across Canada.

RELATED: Newspapers snubbed in Liberal government’s cultural policy

At the time, Joly said Ottawa had no interest in bailing out industry models that are no longer viable, and would instead focus on supporting innovation, experimentation and the transition to digital platforms.

Asked Monday if news of the closures had encouraged her to rethink her approach, Joly reiterated that the government would provide support in the coming months for local media as they continue to shift to web-based models.

“Of course, I’m sad to hear about these local closures and my thoughts are with the families affected,” she said.

She also noted the federal government invests up to $75 million annually in the Canada Periodical Fund, which includes support for local media.

A government source said the Liberals believe there is still a strong appetite for local news and that there could be a way for other local media companies to begin filling in the gaps.

RELATED: Treat media providers equally, but don’t pass on costs, Canadians tell Joly

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss matters not yet public, said the Liberal government is looking at modernizing the Canada Periodical Fund in ways that could help local news outlets, such as by moving away from funding based on paid print circulation, which does not account for a digital audience.

Helping print media out of a crisis does not have to be about propping up a failed business model, said Dias, the national president of Unifor and one of several prominent Canadian business leaders who took part in consultations on the future of the industry.

“If the government wants to have a thriving industry, if they want to have freedom of expression, if they want to have journalistic integrity, then we’re going to have to find a mechanism to deal with it,” Dias said. “You put money into journalism. That’s what the issue is.”

Media union CWA Canada, which represents employees at The Canadian Press, also urged the Liberals to take urgent action.

Ottawa-area Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld called the closures — several of which will impact papers in the national capital — an unfortunate development that will impact democracy and make it more difficult for politicians and community groups to connect with locals.

Vandenbeld said that if there are solutions available to help the industry, the government should pursue them. But she believes the industry’s challenges are a much larger issue that are part of a global trend.

“If there are solutions, then absolutely I think we should be doing what we can,” she said. “But I think this is a much bigger, societal issue than individual papers.”

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, who is the heritage critic for his party, said he thinks the newspaper chains are making a mistake by shutting down the local papers, but said the federal government should not intervene.

“When you have dynamic change, the answer is not to have government fund money to turn back the clock and try to keep an old model alive that doesn’t work anymore,” said Van Loan, whose own Ontario riding of York — Simcoe is also losing a local paper, the Bradford Times.

But his Conservative colleague Karen Vecchio, whose southwestern Ontario riding is losing the St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News, suggested it might be a good idea for the Liberals to take another look.

“I think they have to make sure, at the end of the day, they are supporting smaller communities and this may be a way,” Vecchio said. ”I think they should look at it once again and see what’s best.”

New Democrat heritage critic Pierre Nantel urged the government to reconsider.

“Wake up,” Nantel said. ”The barn is burning.”

Andy Blatchford and Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

HarbourCats players celebrate winning the North Division Championship Series in 2019. (Christian J. Stewart/File Photo)
Victoria HarbourCats locked out of team Facebook page

Management hires legal team to solve issue

Victoria police are looking for high-risk offender Douglas McPherson. (Courtesy of VicPD)
UPDATED: Victoria police arrest high-risk parolee with history of bank robbery

Citizen alerts cops after spotting parolee on Pandora Avenue

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Saanich implements single-lane traffic stretch on Prospect Lake Road along Clavert Park. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Saanich makes one-way traffic permanent on segment of Prospect Lake Road

Prospect Lake Road to close near Calvert Park Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. for construction

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Freighter drags anchor towards Boulder Point Oct. 22. It came within 730 metres of the shore, according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

Most Read