House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, members of the Progressive Conservative Party vote in favour of this motion.

Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my constituents, I support this legislation.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 257
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

November 3rd, 1998 / 6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to discuss the issue of the concentration of ownership in Canada's media. This is an issue that has become very important to many Canadians. Ownership concentration, in my opinion, needs to be examined.

Anyone who has read the newspaper, watched the news or listened to radio in the last year, knows that this is an issue of debate that has been around for a long time. This has recently taken on new dimensions. Canadians have started to ask themselves whether we should worry about this once more.

The fundamental question and the questions revolving around this matter are whether Canada's media ownership is in the hands of too few people. Furthermore, does the concentration of media ownership present a true dilemma relative to the amount of influence that these owners have on what is published or broadcast? If so, I would therefore recommend that the government study this issue further.

I am not necessarily asking for a commission of inquiry. Rather I am interested in what my colleagues in this House have to say about this matter. Let us take a look at these questions before going on any further.

Canada's media is comprised of many facets, including radio, television, print and electronic through the Internet. Each medium reaches a wide number of Canadians and is a large part of many of our lives. Few are the Canadians who do not read the newspaper, watch television or listen to radio every day.

On a daily basis the citizens of this country are bombarded by information about the goings on around Canada and around the world. But one has to ask whether they are receiving a balanced presentation of the news.

Taking a look more particularly at the concentration of ownership in Canada's newspapers, we realize how concrete this issue really is. Ownership of the newspapers of our nation has been a target of much discussion over many years but has become an even more intense debate recently.

First let us examine a few facts revolving around Canada's newspapers. The three biggest newspaper chains in Canada are in charge of 72% of all the circulation of daily papers. This in itself demonstrates concentration of ownership.

What is more impressive is that two out of these three chains are owned and run in essence by the same person. Hollinger Inc., through its owner Conrad Black, owns 27 of Canada's newspapers.

In July of 1997 Hollinger secured a large portion of Southam Inc., Canada's largest chain owning 34 papers. Now 58.6% of Southam is under the control of Hollinger and of Conrad Black.

Together these two companies control almost 60% of Canada's newspapers and approximately 42% of the country's circulation. They own all the daily newspapers in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, as well as 14 out of British Columbia's 16 dailies. In addition, they control papers in every provincial capital except for Winnipeg, Toronto and Quebec City.

As I have demonstrated, Canada's print media is controlled in big part by one company, Hollinger Inc., and by one person.

Another very influential newspaper company in Canada is Torstar Corporation which owns 100% of the Toronto Star , the country's single largest newspaper in terms of circulation. This corporation is another example of a company securing quite a large portion of ownership and circulation in Canada's media.

Just last week Torstar Corporation announced plans to stage a hostile takeover of Sun Media Corporation. Together these two conglomerates would control a total of 26% of Canada's daily newspaper circulation.

Another area of concentration is cross ownership of newspapers, radio, television, news services and web sites. But the question remains on the issue of influence. We can easily say that the majority of Canada's newspapers are in the hands of a few people, but is it too concentrated? Are there too few people at the helm of Canada's media?

To really know if it is overconcentrated we must look at the integrity of the papers themselves. Are they presenting a balanced approach to the news? Are the facts being put out in an objective standpoint way? Do Canadians in all market areas have access to differing points of view?

Besides the danger that might exist in very few companies having too much influence on the papers, another danger might arise. While it is said that publishers might not directly control policy at each paper, certainly those in charge are conscious of what publishers like and expect.

Do they, for example, follow their own personal standards and guidelines or do they try to please the person who signs their paycheques? With the number of papers within one publisher's control the chances are fairly good that some papers' editors do not always work in a totally unbiased state of mind.

On the other hand the publisher of the Southam owned Victoria Times Columnist insists that he does not feel any pressure to go one way or another on issues. The mission for him, he says, is to get in touch with the community's agenda and not the publisher's.

It would not necessarily be that a newspaper would neglect or falsify information, but certainly they might put emphasis on certain facts more than others. Any editorials may present opinions following a publisher's philosophy or political point of view. As we can see, although a publisher might not be in complete control of what is printed, those who are in charge of content could be easily persuaded or inclined to undertake methods to make their publisher happy.

Let us inspect yet another aspect that adds to the ramifications of the debate. As it was officially announced earlier on this year, Hollinger Incorporated launched just a week ago the first edition of National Post . This new paper is competing against the Toronto Star , Canada's most read newspaper, and the Globe and Mail , the only other paper that claims to be national.

If the paper is to be successful it may take readers from the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star , particularly in the important Toronto market. If the National Post ends up taking many readers from the aforementioned papers, not only will they suffer but there will be greater concentration and obviously less competition.

The Government of Canada in the past has taken a closer look at media ownership. In 1970 Keith Davey and others studied media issues, one of which was the concentration of media ownership. The three biggest chains controlled 45% of daily circulation at that time in comparison to the 72% that the three largest chains now own. This study led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Newspapers 10 years later. This commission was formed after Southam closed its Winnipeg Tribune and after Thomson shut down the Ottawa Journal .

Tom Kent, commissioner of this organization in the 1980s had suggested restricting the number of papers that any one company could own. His recommendations were soundly rejected by the industry, an industry that has consistently rejected government intervention.

Our federal government to this day has never implemented any regulations in this matter and that in essence is the foundation of this private member's motion. I am asking other members and Canadians in general for their opinions on the issue.

Do we as Canadians need to worry about media concentration? Should we be implementing legislation to regulate ownership of the media or are the present mechanisms in place all that is in fact needed?

On a related note, the Canadian public has expressed concern with the matter of bank mergers which would give the so-called megabanks too much power and control. I would argue, as have others, that the issue of newspaper ownership is at least as important as the subject of bank mergers. Should we not then be examining the issue of media ownership in the same light?

As I have already mentioned, there exists at present no law restrictions in Canada on how many newspapers one company can own. Some have argued that we should be more concerned about media ownership since it is more important to democracy than any other industry. It plays a powerful role in shaping our nation's public opinion.

Recently major players in the newspaper industry expressed reason for concern over the increasing concentration of newspaper ownership. Paul Godfrey, chairman of Sun Media, last May was quoted as saying it was wrong for the newspaper industry to be in few hands.

John Honderich, publisher of the Toronto Star , made observations earlier this year when Southam bought six British Columbia newspapers from Thomson Corporation. He said:

I can't remember a time when so much has been dominated by one chain. What is enough? Is this level of circulation too much? Should it be allowed?

He went on to ask who should answer these questions and went on to suggest that Ottawa should intervene. As Mr. Honderich said, “I don't think it can be the industry itself or the people we appoint”.

I will end with that question. It is important at the very least to explore this potential problem. We might realize that the media are in no way influenced by ownership concentration. On the other hand we might find that they are and that information presented is not balanced.

In the very least it is our duty as Canadians and as members of the House of Commons to examine and discuss this matter. It is important that we do so in a manner consistent with the values, the institutions and traditions of all of us as Canadians.

Perhaps all we can do at this time is simply to monitor the situation. There may come a time when other action is required. I look forward to hearing what my colleagues in the House have to say on this important issue.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Reform

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Motion No. 423 as the chief opposition critic for industry.

For those who have just joined the debate and for those watching the proceedings on television, the motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.

The motion is certainly timely as we are all aware of the Southam launch of the National Post just days ago, a national paper which includes within its pages the former Financial Post . We are also aware of the impending Toronto Star takeover of the Sun Media Corporation, a merger that will give Torstar 26% of the total weekly circulation of daily newspapers in Canada.

I compliment the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington for the impeccable timing of the motion. On the issue of timing I only hope for his sake that he owns a large block of Sun Media stock since it went up over 60% as a result of the takeover bid.

I make this remark in good humour, but there is an important point in all of this. The success of these private businesses, the profits they make, are disbursed among literally thousands of shareholders. Many of these people are average hard working, overtaxed Canadians investing in mutual funds for their retirements because the government messed up their pensions.

It should be known that all Canadians benefit from profitable industries. We should not be concerned when businesses make decisions to enhance their profits. I would be pretty worried if businesses stopped concerning themselves with profits as this would destroy the Canadian economy.

My first message as it applies to the motion is that we need not be concerned about those in the print media industry merging to improve their economies of scale and their bottom lines. We need not be concerned with the impact this may have on consumer choice.

As far as the interests of consumers are concerned it should be appreciated that companies become profitable and remain profitable by offering consumers quality goods and services at a low price. They make money only when they serve the interests of their consumers. The better they serve, the richer they become.

When companies work against the interests of consumers they lose money because they lose market share. Therefore the free market is the best corrective mechanism by which to address any alleged market coercion or manipulation. Furthermore, the House cannot support both property rights and free enterprise while proposing to create a government body that would have the power and the mandate to prevent companies from exercising their property rights freely through voluntary exchange. The motion is an attack on free enterprise and on property rights.

When speaking to Bill C-20 in the House some time ago I brought my concerns regarding the Competition Act to the attention of my colleagues. I share those concerns again so that members of the House can understand why those who understand and respect the workings of the free market cannot support the motion.

The Competition Act rests on the assumption that the government can meddle and regulate its way into a free market. In his recently published book entitled The Myths of Antitrust , author Armentano wrote:

Trades of private property are either voluntary or they are not; one cannot legislate the free market or create competition. To have a free market the government must leave the markets alone; to have the state make markets “free” is again a contradiction in terms.

I am also reminded of Nobel prize winning economist Dr. Friedman, who wrote:

A monopoly can seldom be established within a country without overt and covert government assistance in the form of a tariff or some other device.

With respect, competition and free enterprise are concepts that are not properly understood by my colleague from Waterloo-Wellington. The number of companies providing a product or service is not a reliable indicator as to the competitiveness of the market. The key to ensuing competition is removing the barriers to access and entry into the market and into that segment of the economy.

I add at this point that the television industry should be the focus of our attention. The CRTC acts as a barrier to competition. As long as no such regulatory body encroaches on the print media industry, we need not be concerned with concentration of the industry.

I believe we can learn a lesson from the banking industry that might help my colleagues understand why the motion must be rejected. The government has created an environment in Canada that has encouraged the creation of a banking oligarchy. Instead of deregulating the banking industry to allow for competition, it meddles further into the banking industry with foreign ownership restrictions.

When Canadian small businesses cannot get adequate financing for new innovations, they justify the need to create another government program called the Small Business Loans Act. We can see how one government intervention leads to many more until we are so far removed from the free market that we cannot begin to understand the potential for market based solutions to public policy problems.

Competition legislation is nothing but a bundle of contradictions. The entire purpose of being in business is to drive competitors out of business. Every entrepreneur wants to capture more and more of the market share by providing a better product at a better price than his competitor. This is called anti-competitive pricing and dumping.

Entrepreneurs eager to obey the government should not try to outdo their competitors by providing consumers a better price. They should keep their prices and services at the same levels as those of their competitors. That too is against the rules. It is called collusion.

Entrepreneurs should raise their prices far above their competitors so that they are not guilty of anti-competitive pricing or collusion. Wrong again. This is called price gouging.

Our competition laws are an unenforceable mess of contradictions. If members of the House give these laws some honest consideration, they too will come to this conclusion.

The Reform Party believes that the creation of wealth and productive jobs for Canadians is best achieved through the operations of a responsible, broadly based free enterprise system in which private property, freedom of contract and the operation of the free market are encouraged and respected.

Economic competition and the resulting prosperity that will come from it are the results of a deregulated market and cannot be achieved by government intervention. As the critic for industry I will work with the private sector to identify and remove the barriers to entry that may be limiting competition. However I will not allow the government to use its power to further meddle into the economy.

I conclude my remarks by asking members of the House to give some thought to all the benefits a vibrant and free economy has given to Canadians. I would like members of the House to look beyond big government solutions to public policy problems and to start working with the private sector to create laws and regulations in Canada that will bring us prosperity.

Once we all come to understand the importance of economic freedom, we will also come to understand why we should not be concerned with print media concentration in Canada.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion by the member for Waterloo—Wellington, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois is in total agreement with the members of this House who are wondering about the reduction in sources of information and the concentration of the ownership of newspapers in the hands of a few magnates. It also feels that this situation represents a threat to freedom of expression.

In Canada, two commissions of inquiry have already examined the issue: the Kent commission in the early 1980s and the Davey commission in the 1970s. None of the recommendations of these two commissions was ever implemented.

The commission, which published its report in 1981, was tasked with examining the decreasing competition between dailies, that is the disappearance of newspapers within a market, and the increased concentration of ownership in the industry within the hands of a few people.

It was also asked to examine the growing trend among newspapers to belong to chains, a trend which has increasingly taken hold. The commission was also asked to indicate the effect on services offered by the print media to the public, and to make recommendations if it saw fit.

This commission made recommendations on such matters as the acceptable level of ownership of newspapers in a particular market, the process of divestment of newspapers, measures to ensure editorial independence from a newspaper's owners, and the adoption of a national newspapers act.

A Library of Parliament study examined the Kent Commission's recommendations with a view to determining the areas of jurisdiction involved. The study concluded that, under the division of powers set out sections 92(13) and 92(16) of the Constitution Act, 1867, a large number of the Kent Commission's recommendations fell within provincial areas of jurisdiction. These sections recognize that property, trade and civil rights are provincial matters.

Thus it was that in Quebec, for instance, an order in council was passed by the government on July 13, 1988 after an agreement was reached with Hollinger and Groupe Unimédia to structure the future sale of Quebec City's Le Soleil and Chicoutimi's Le Quotidien , so that Quebec buyers would have a chance to become owners of Quebec newspapers, while maintaining the plurality of ownership of dailies.

The concentration of print media is a greater concern today, however, than it was when the Kent Commission was created. In 1970, in English Canada, the three major newspaper chains controlled 60% of the circulation of dailies. In 1980, this had increased to 75%. Today, through Hollinger and Southam, Conrad Black controls 61 of the 105 dailies in Canada, or approximately 60% of the circulation of newspapers in English Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the creation of a commission of inquiry because it is not at all convinced that this is the right way to go about correcting the problem. The Davey and Kent commissions did their work at a time when the situation was much less alarming than it is today, and their recommendations were not followed up, primarily because of the issue of jurisdiction and legal precedents.

It is also important to note that Canada's three most recent commissions of inquiry cost taxpayers a fortune, and their findings were not worth the money spent, with the possible exception of the Erasmus-Dussault commission on aboriginal peoples, although the final bill was $50 million.

The Létourneau inquiry into the events in Somalia cost approximately $12 million, not to mention the expenses of the Department of National Defence and the legal expenses of other parties.

The Krever commission, which left hundreds of thousands of people dissatisfied and not even entitled to a small amount of compensation, ran up a bill of some $15 million.

It looks to the Bloc Quebecois as though the government is soothing its conscience by creating commissions, by giving the public the impression that it is looking after real problems, while spending millions on commissions whose reports are shelved and never followed up.

Furthermore, the Bloc Quebecois is concerned that ownership of almost 60% of Canada's newspapers is concentrated in the hands of Conrad Black, a man famous for interfering in his newspapers, a man who does not hesitate to hire staff who share his views and to quickly get rid of anyone who disagrees with him.

The Bloc Quebecois is concerned that the majority of Canadian newspapers are owned by a man who says that Trudeau is mistaken when he compares today's Quebec with the Quebec of Duplessis' time. He put it this way:

It is unwise for Trudeau to muddy the waters, diluting his attack on the bigotry and the undemocratic impulses of the separatists.

This appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Friday, October 9. Dear Mr. Black also said:

Radio-Canada is a separatist propaganda agency and it has been for 30 years and operating courtesy of and to considerable expense of the taxpayers of Canada.

That man who has no respect for Quebec's language legislation, which was passed democratically and which recognizes the rights of the minority, as the Council of Europe so eloquently pointed out. That man who favours partition and used his Montreal newspaper to spread his own views.

Various voices have been raised against the concentration of print media, including our own. But we have a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea of creating a commission. We are concerned by the apparent unanimity in English Canada regarding how the sovereignist cause should be treated by the media.

Thus, all the independent studies, those done by independent researchers—be it the Fraser Institute or Denis Monière or even the CBC ombudsman—indicate that the anglophone media, both electronic and print, are not objective in their treatment of the Quebec issue and present it negatively.

We believe a lot needs to be done in Canadian newspapers to ensure the public is well informed. We also think it is important not to exaggerate the concentration of print media. We would like a longer debate to find a way to prevent this sort of thing. A commission of inquiry, however, does not seem to be the solution.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Motion No. M-423 which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.

I must start by registering a regret. My regret is that this motion does not go far enough. It does not go past the discussion stage to the action stage, to the legislation stage.

I for one, and I speak for the New Democratic Party, believe that we need media concentration legislation in this country now and that we needed it 20 years ago. Media concentration has been studied and studied. I have two studies here in front of me which I will refer to momentarily.

To show how long media concentration has been debated in this Chamber I point to Hansard of December 11, 1970.

Tommy Douglas rose to ask Pierre Trudeau about the three volume, 1117 page study which was the Senate special committee on mass media report, sometimes called the Davie report:

In view of the findings of this committee that the profits earned by media corporations, that is by broadcasters and publishers, are, in their words, extraordinary and astonishing, and in view of the evidence of the growing concentration of power in the hands of fewer and fewer media corporations, what actions does the government propose to take?

While Hansard does not record gestures, the answer was an obvious shrug.

The Liberals in the Senate spent over two years studying corporate concentration in the media. They discovered it was a problem requiring government action. The Liberal response was do nothing.

In 1980 another study was launched by the Liberals, the Kent commission, this time in response to the simultaneous shutdown of the Ottawa Journal and the Winnipeg Tribune , wiping out over 185 years of journalist tradition in Canada.

This eloquent report starts with a quote from a judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Freedom of the press from government interference does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.

The royal commission on newspapers reported in 1981 and, surprise, media concentration is a problem requiring government action, not more studies.

Specifically, the Kent commission called for halts to further concentration, with limited divestment relating to cross ownership in different medias and the divestment of the Globe and Mail from Thomson. It said that a newspaper owner should either be national or local.

Another key set of recommendations in the Kent report was designed to protect the editorial independence of the newsroom from the interference of the boardroom through the use of an independent board to hire the editor of the local paper and the establishment of a central press panel which would oversee the independence of the newsroom. The government response at the time, a Liberal government headed by Pierre Trudeau, was a little more encouraging. It flew trial balloons in the form of a draft bill on the watered down press council with limited divestment. Then it blew the balloons out of the water and did nothing.

It is worth noting that the minister who tried to do something about this, James Fleming, was removed from cabinet. He then tried to have a private member's bill pass on the same topic. It was a bill that was strongly opposed by his Liberal colleagues. I notice a pattern of behaviour here. Liberals study and then Liberals do nothing.

The problem of corporate concentration in the media is in crisis. Conrad Black, the Star fighting for the Sun , Global and Shaw carving up WIC, these events will continue to escalate unless the government acts now. Unless the government does something now and unless the government makes a real commitment to protect Canadian media at upcoming trade talks, Canada can expect to see the eventual takeover of media giants like Baton and Global by American giants like NBC and CBS. We need government action now.

Where do we start? I spoke to Tom Kent in recent weeks. When he wrote his report 34% of the daily newspapers were in the hands of one chain. With the launch of the National Post Conrad Black now owns about 55% of Canadian dailies. Given that, I asked Tom Kent what recommendations from his report were still doable given the rise of Conrad Black and since then the Star wars in Toronto. Mr. Kent felt that the future he predicted had come to pass and therefore the divestment options are probably not available. He strongly felt that the setting up of independent committees in the newsrooms to protect the paper from boardroom interference was still doable but also more important than ever.

I also spoke with people who know the media business like Gail Lem, a former journalist and now an organizer for the communications workers, and David Robinson from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It is clear that there are things that the government must do now to control the situation.

The government can and should ban newspaper owners from owning broadcasting corporations. The government should also ban any further concentration and cross ownership dealing with the weekly newspaper sector.

The government can implement the sections of the Kent commission dealing with the press rights panel and the newspaper advisory committees for all daily newspapers. This does not cause government interference. It protects editorial independence of content.

The government can place controls on the foreign ownership of all media companies in Canada.

The government must re-fund the CBC so that Canadians have a strong independent standard voice across the country.

The government can and must encourage community organizations of all types to participate and buy their local weekly papers, stopping the massive concentration of weekly chains and making weeklies truly community papers.

The government can instruct the CRTC to force cable stations to have a higher level of standard, community run programming on its community channels.

The CRTC, as part of the current exercise it is conducting, should also be asked to advise the government on controls which may be placed on the cross ownership of media corporations as they relate to the new medias which are emerging daily on our computer screens.

In conclusion, I regret that I will not be able to support Motion M-423 because it falls far short of what is required now. I believe that the member moving this motion is sincere and concerned. I also think Canadians are concerned about media concentration. We all want a free press. We all know, almost instinctively, that having the ownership of the press in a very few hands threatens freedom of the press. What we need now however is not more study but action.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and address Motion M-423, a motion which proposes:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a commission of inquiry to examine the concentration of print media in Canada.

The timing of this motion could not possibly have been scheduled at a more appropriate moment. Who would have thought that on the eve of the debate of this motion we would see a blockbuster takeover attempt such as that of the Toronto Star versus Sun Media.

It is a little hard to believe that it was merely five months ago that Torstar was calling for just the type of probe that this motion is seeking. Of course when this motion was introduced, I very much doubt that the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington was targeting his party's friends at the Toronto Star .

No, this motion is being made so that the Liberal Party, which has never shied away from big brother style interference in the marketplace, could effectively interfere in the operation of Hollinger Company. Make no mistake. Today we are not debating the inherent problems of dominant position within the print media. This could not possibly be the discussion for we already have an effective Competition Act to handle just such an issue. In essence, what we are really discussing is just how far government should go in its interference with private industry.

Allow me to say that if we were capable of setting aside our principles, it would be moderately seductive to entertain this motion. I would like to assure the hon. member that as a Conservative, I do not relish the potential future of the print media situation in the greater Toronto area.

Already I can envision a scenario on the eve of the next federal election. The Liberal mouthpiece Toronto Star headline will read “GST, free trade and helicopters aside, this time we really believe them”, and across town the Toronto Sun headline will read “Ditto”. It is enough to send shivers up your spine but it is not enough to warrant interference.

Let us examine the Torstar proposal on its merits. On October 28 Torstar offered $16 per share for all of the common shares of Sun Media Corporation on a fully diluted basis. The question becomes, is this is a good and fair offer? Indeed that is the question, however it is not for the Government of Canada to answer. It is instead up to the shareholders of Sun Media to decide.

Perhaps a 62% premium over the closing price last Wednesday is a very good deal. Perhaps it is not. Once again it is not for us to decide. Large and small investors will make this decision alike, including the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, Trimark Mutual Funds, Talvest Mutual Funds and others.

This is not to say that every merger that gets dreamed up in the minds of deal makers should remain outside the scope of inspection, not at all. But this is where I come back to the Competition Bureau and the Competition Act which my party implemented in 1986. The Competition Bureau has been given the necessary tools to complete this task so let it do it.

Print media is not a new media form, unlike the Internet explosion. This House would certainly have taken print media into consideration when it crafted this act just over a decade ago.

It seems we may very well be debating nostalgia today. The world we are living in has changed dramatically in the ways in which information is delivered. No longer are newspapers merely competing against a few radio stations and a couple of television networks. Instead news is now available on different networks 24 hours a day. The Internet is available 24 hours a day. This has forced the print media industry to re-evaluate its own efficiencies and competitive advantages.

Far from being an industry that is fading away, we have witnessed a rebirth in this nation. Canadians now boast two national newspapers that must be included in the competitive mix of every market in the country. Canadians in general have become news junkies as they read more, tune in more and surf more. Our media outlets, already among the most scrutinized in the world, thanks to the work of the CRTC have grabbed hold of the information age and in many ways lead the revolution.

My background is not in competition law but we should take a moment and review what we are looking at in terms of level of competition. I am certain my hon. colleagues in this House have all seen the breakdown of print media numbers as a percentage of circulation. According to those numbers, if this deal goes through, the Toronto Star parent company will control approximately 26% of the print media circulation. However, it is unfair to base any review simply on circulation. Should it not be reviewed as a percentage of holdings versus all other media outlets including broadcast and the Internet?

One phenomenon that has long existed in Canada is the acceptability of monopoly markets as it pertains to the newspaper industry. Historically we have learned that it is not reasonable to expect there to be more than one newspaper in our smaller market cities. In fact the 1970s saw the consolidation of outlets across the country. It was reasoned that the result was an acceptable level of competition due to the existence of non-print competitors as well as the reality of market forces.

Now I understand that my colleagues in the Liberal Party are loath to accept market forces at any time when they think they can get in and start interfering. However, there is nothing that can be done by legislators to increase demand. I trust this will not discourage those would be manipulators into believing that our media marketplace is not vibrant. In fact quite the opposite situation exists.

If we look back to 1971 and the demise of the old Toronto Telegram , it became apparent that a void existed. A group of 60 displaced workers and $650,000 led to the formation of the Toronto Sun . This is not something that could have been addressed by parliament. Instead what was needed was a passion for the industry, proper financing and a void in the marketplace. Basic market forces and a group of entrepreneurs filled that void.

In the 27 years since then, the marketplace has changed dramatically. The Southam chain is now under new ownership, the once mighty Thomson chain is substantially smaller, and the Ottawa market's second largest newspaper will turn 10 years old this Saturday. I use these examples to illustrate my point that the print media industry is a dynamic one, yet some remain unconvinced.

There is a constituency out there that was addressed by the publisher of the Toronto Star , John Honderich, when he called for a royal commission five months ago. The member for Waterloo—Wellington responded to this challenge. I am not convinced that the gentleman who started this ball rolling would still be enthusiastically supportive of it today.

I understand the fears that are inherent in this motion. They stem from the basic reality that newspapers are not widgets. Newspapers go to the heart and soul of communities. Newspapers often fuel fundamental debate in this country. It is because of these factors that the marketplace will not tolerate uniformity. It will not accept uniformity of thought, nor will it accept uniformity of product.

If the Sun newspapers were to become carbon copy apologists for the Liberal Party of Canada, another newspaper would emerge supported by those who do not necessarily believe that the sun rises and sets on Prime Minister Mark McGuire.

In conclusion, it is not our feeling in the Progressive Conservative Party that a commission as set out in this motion is needed. We feel very comfortable with the present make-up of regulations and on how the Competition Bureau and the CRTC administer them. A commission of this type would result in unnecessary government duplication.

We are truly disappointed that this is a non-votable motion. In lieu of the events of the past week, it would be very interesting to ascertain the sentiments of my colleagues on the other side of the House.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

There will be nine minutes left in debate before we go to the last five minutes and the mover of the motion.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Liberal

Walt Lastewka Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on Motion 423 which was introduced by my colleague representing the riding of Waterloo—Wellington. The motion calls for a debate to express the concerns of the member's constituents, colleagues and Canadians on the concentration of print media in Canada. I would also thank my colleague for the research and effort that was put into his motion.

As members of this House are aware, the print media marketplace in Canada has been undergoing significant changes in recent years with several newspapers changing ownership. One recent example is Southam Inc.'s acquisition of the Financial Post from Sun Media Corporation in return for four southern Ontario dailies, including the Kitchener—Waterloo Record circulated in my colleague's riding of Waterloo—Wellington. The most recent concerns the announcement of a possible takeover of Sun Media by Torstar.

As I understand it, some people perceive that newspaper mergers can be detrimental to Canada for two reasons. First, there is a fear that increasing ownership concentration may leave Canadians with reduced access to both ideas and sources of information. Second, there are concerns that newspaper conglomerates might be able to conduct business in an anti-competitive manner with their subscribers, advertisers or journalists. I will address the anti-competitive business behaviour point first as it clearly relates to something that falls within the purview of the industry department.

The Competition Bureau headed by the director of investigation and research is an independent law enforcement agency of Industry Canada with responsibility for enforcing the Competition Act. This act is a law of general application. It applies with few exceptions to all sectors of the Canadian economy, including newspapers, magazines and other print media. The law touches on the everyday life of all Canadians by seeking to maintain and encourage competition in the marketplace with the objective of providing consumers with competitive prices and a variety of choices in the goods and services that they purchase.

The director actively enforces the Competition Act by monitoring developments in the marketplace and reviewing complaints from consumers, competitors and other interested individuals to determine whether there is evidence of any anti-competitive activity in the marketplace.

In the case of mergers, the act mandates that all transactions of substantial size be reviewed by the director, whether the bureau receives complaints about them or not. The test applied by the director in his review of mergers is whether or not the proposed transaction would or is likely to substantially lessen or prevent competition.

Accordingly, the Competition Bureau reviews all major print media mergers. The bureau's review centres on a merger's economic impact, which in the case of a newspaper merger primarily revolves around advertising issues. Every transaction is thoroughly examined on a case by case basis.

I take this opportunity to encourage anyone who has information that anti-competitive activity is ongoing or that might be facilitated by a merger to bring it to the attention of the director.

The director's view is that the provisions of the legislation are adequate to deal with anti-competitive behaviour in the print media industry. For instance, they have allowed the director to successfully challenge Southam Inc.'s acquisition of a chain of real estate advertising papers in Vancouver.

In addition, the provisions of the Competition Act are subject to regular review in order to identify appropriate amendments to the law. In this regard, a set of amendments to update the law is currently before the Senate.

I will return to the first issue that the motion seeks to address, that increased print media concentration may lead to a lack of diversity of sources of ideas and information. I wish to point to the conclusions of a prior commission of inquiry on this very topic, the Kent commission of 1980.

The Kent Commission felt that increasing print media concentration was a cause for concern as it might limit the dissemination of ideas and information.

It has been almost 20 years since the Kent Commission report. The Canadian information landscape has changed tremendously. The growth of broadcast media has been explosive. Canadians can now partake in an ever expanding universe of general interest and specialty channels, several of which are devoted exclusively to news, debates and editorials.

What also bears mention is the incredible communication potential of the Internet and the proliferation of so-called new media or multi-media services. In Canada the Internet is irrevocably on its way to becoming an integral part of every Canadian's life.

As Peter Desbarats, a member of the Kent Commission, recently mentioned, Canadians now benefit from a wide array of choices when they seek ideas and information.

Nevertheless, Canadians are concerned in some areas. Regardless of the vast array of choices that individuals have in accessing information on events throughout Canada and the world, the newspaper has come to symbolize freedom of expression and the exposure of facts.

Moreover, our newspapers have presented Canadians with a virtual buffet of analytical perspectives reflecting many different points of view. When one person or one company acquires many different newspapers across the country people might rightly ask: Are views being suppressed? Are the views of one perspective over-represented in the newspaper media?

An example can be seen in British Columbia where the owner of the News Group , Mr. David Black, recently told his editors of the 60 weekly newspapers to oppose the Nisga'a treaty and to run a series of eight columns against it. Black's action set a dangerous precedent of management interference. This strikes at the very heart of editorial interference.

We might also ask if local flavour gets sacrificed in favour of a cookie cutter approach from a large corporate super structure.

Should Canadians decide that they are not being well served by the change in ownership structure that we are currently witnessing, what can be done?

I believe that the key to this is to ensure that our information marketplace must be as free of barriers to entry as possible. In other words, we must continue to create a business climate that makes it possible and attractive for existing and potential competitors to provide Canadians with alternatives that they seek.

Maintaining a competitive marketplace is an important role for government and I look forward to working with my colleague from Waterloo—Wellington to make sure that we pursue the right policies to make it attractive for new and fresh perspectives to enter the business of providing information to Canadians.

I thank the member for Waterloo—Wellington for giving us the opportunity to have this debate today.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of the members who shared their opinions and expressed their points of view regarding this very important matter. I think the importance of this issue has been demonstrated through their thoughtful interventions.

In the eyes of some media, ownership concentration, until now at least, does not seem to have caused many noticeable problems. But as ownership continues to be put in the hands of fewer and fewer people, problems may arise. This is why the potential exists for the Government of Canada to examine this issue.

Let me reiterate a few important facts that were brought up in my introductory comments and which other members alluded to as well.

The three biggest newspaper chains in Canada are in charge of 72% of the daily circulation. One person owns Hollinger Inc., which controls 27 of Canada's newspapers. This company owns over half of the interests in Southam Incorporated, Canada's largest chain, with 34 papers.

These two companies, essentially in Conrad Black's control, are in charge of 60% of Canada's newspapers and distribute 50% of its dailies. Their control spreads across the country and is present in most of the provincial capitals.

Owning 100% of the Toronto Star , Canada's largest paper in terms of circulation, Torstar Corporation also has a very large grasp on the information being given to Canadians. Its bid to take over SunMedia Corporation, still in the works, would provide it with an even greater hold on the newspaper industry in Canada.

I think it is obvious that Canada's newspapers are in the hands of a few people. The question that we must ask ourselves, though, is whether or not the concentration of the media's ownership adversely affects the ability of Canadians to obtain different points of view on the affairs of the day.

The newspaper industry has a tremendous impact on public opinion in Canada. The information presented by this medium reaches many people in our nation. Therefore it is everyone's duty to ensure that this information be presented in a balanced fashion, showing differing points of view.

We must therefore all work together to ensure that the media are giving the public what objective information is needed and is desired. At the very least I think it is our duty as Canadians and here in the House of Commons to examine and discuss this matter. It may be difficult to judge whether media ownership concentration is detrimental to the industry or to society as a whole but it is important to talk about it nevertheless.

We should therefore be vigilant as mergers and acquisition tend to concentrate the media even more. This is especially true in many areas of the country. Accordingly, I reiterate that we should exhibit caution as mergers and acquisitions in the media take place. We should monitor the situation closely, recognizing there may come a time when further government action is required.

I thank all hon. members for participating in this very valuable dialogue and debate.

Concentration Of Print Media In Canada
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being 7.07 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.07 p.m.)