Mr. Francis Drouin (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for Toronto—Danforth.
I am very pleased to be here to speak to a subject that is extremely important to our rural and francophone communities, and I will be talking about today's motion from that perspective.
I agree that a free and independent press is important and even essential to a healthy democracy. That is why our government showed leadership by announcing measures that will enable Canadians to continue to have access to reliable newspapers. Later this year, Canadians will be called upon to choose their next government. As is the case with every election, they will count on a reliable, independent press to keep them informed of the major economic, social and environmental issues facing our country, so that they can make an informed decision.
Can members imagine an election campaign with no press coverage? Would that really be a step forward for democracy? The answer is obvious. Similarly, would Canadians really be better off if we did not have a strong and independent free press to keep an eye on what governments and public institutions are doing and to hold them more accountable? Once again, the answer is obvious.
We would have to search very hard to find a healthy democratic system that does not have a free and independent press. Conversely, it is unfortunately all too easy to compile a long list of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes to which the idea of a free press is a totally foreign concept. Those who criticize what our government is doing say that a laissez-faire approach is the best solution to guarantee the freedom and independence of the press. They are the same people who criticize CBC/Radio-Canada. They think journalists can be bought and corrupted. These conspiracy theories are insulting to Canadian journalists, who deserve better than these kinds of prejudices.
We on this side of the House obviously do not feel that way. We respect journalists and their work. We have faith in their integrity, and we know they are professionals. We also strongly believe that a bankrupt press is not a free press. That should be obvious. The print media industry is going through a serious crisis. Over the past decade, more than 200 community newspapers and about 40 daily newspapers have shuttered. According to Statistics Canada, over 10,000 journalism jobs disappeared during that period. This crisis is picking up speed. In the industry, cost-cutting and layoffs are not the exception, they are the norm, and that goes for both small media outlets and the bigger players.
For instance, The Globe and Mail, the largest daily newspaper in the country, just recently announced cuts in order to reduce its operating costs, which amount to $10 million a year. No one in the industry is immune. Since 2008, overall annual revenues in Canada's newspaper industry have decreased by 42%. This decrease is primarily due to the loss of more than 60% of advertising revenues. In 2017, Canadian newspapers were taking in $1.7 billion less in annual ad revenues than they were 10 years earlier. This is a huge loss that is undermining the viability of the entire industry. More and more advertisers are moving away from the printed word and turning to the Internet to place their ads, but Canadian online media platforms are getting very little of this new windfall.
This transformation in the media environment is having a direct and significant impact on the quantity, quality and diversity of reliable journalistic content that Canadians have access to. Many communities across the country are seeing less journalistic coverage of matters of public interest. Access to local news has become especially compromised in many rural communities as a result of the many closures and job cuts.
On that issue, people talk about government responsibility, not only at the federal level, but also at the provincial level and, more importantly, at the local level. It is extremely important that we have a free press active in our communities because it is the sole guardian of the responsibility of local governments back home, in our small communities. I want to emphasize that point, because this is a serious threat to the health and sustainability of our democracy.
If we do nothing in the coming years, other newspapers will close their doors, the number of journalists covering public interest issues will continue to decline, and the health of our democracy will face a growing threat.
Our rural communities will be hit first. Our minority groups will be devastated, especially linguistic minorities such as the people of Prescott—Russell, most of whom are francophones living in a minority community in Ontario.
This is the worst possible time to throw in the towel. Unlike those on the other side, we will not surrender to market forces. We know that, in this day and age, Canadians tend to turn to the Internet for a variety of content, including news. We also know that the accuracy of the information available on many sites, typically those of foreign origin, is questionable, to say the least.
Everyone knows that social networks can be astonishingly effective at spreading fake news and launching misinformation campaigns designed to manipulate public opinion. Now, more than ever, we need trustworthy news sources to offset the misinformation and fake news articles proliferating across the country.
Our government promised that any action taken to support journalism would fully respect the independence of the press. We kept that promise and we will continue to do so. Many western democracies have had policies and programs in place for decades to support the print news media without interfering with the independence of the press. If others can do it, we can too.
Our government's approach involves setting up an independent panel of experts to identify and refine the eligibility criteria for the tax measures to support journalism. We believe that it is important that the panel reflect the diversity of the industry and its various sectors by representing both employers and employees, and that it also reflect our society's linguistic and ethnic diversity.
This approach will make it possible to implement fair and effective measures to support journalism, while respecting the independence of the press. In my opinion, it is clear that the official opposition's motion must be rejected by the House. We believe in an independent press, but we need to support it in the coming years.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Business of Supply