Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to participate in debate in the House of Commons on behalf of my constituents in Chilliwack—Hope.
I do want to take some latitude, as I have noted has been given to other members, to pay tribute to Jim Carr. I had the honour to serve as the critic for natural resources during the time Jim was the natural resources minister. I disagreed vehemently with Jim on almost all of his policies, but it was impossible to dislike him as a man. I had the opportunity to travel with him, as critics and ministers often do, and we spent more time together than I think I spent with many family members over that period of time, in places like Mexico, Rome and China. I got to see Jim shine in those scenarios.
I even got to see him dance at the opening of a Mexican playground. A Canadian mining company had opened a playground for the children in the community near its operation, and he was not invited to dance, but he took it upon himself to join in the festivities. It is a memory I will always cherish. He was a good man who loved his family, and he will be missed, not only back at home in Manitoba, but also here in the House. I want to pay tribute to him, and I think of his family and his colleagues, who have all been devastated by the news.
I will move now to Bill C-18, the online news act. We have been hearing all day about some of the issues Conservatives have with the bill, and we think it would miss the targets. It would not do what it is intended to do, and it has been a bit rich to hear members of the Liberal government and its coalition partners in the NDP talk about web giants hoovering up advertising revenue. If we go through the public disclosures of their MP expenses, we will see tens of thousands of dollars in voluntary advertising payments to Facebook, so forgive me if I think it is a bit rich to be hearing about these web giants swooping down to hoover up ad revenue when members of Parliament are feeding tens of thousands of dollars into Facebook or Meta's bottom line.
Let us not get too self righteous here about what we are talking about, because members of Parliament, when they want to communicate with their constituents, as do many Liberals and NDP members, have no problem giving money to those web giants to use their platforms to communicate with constituents.
Members do not simply give to their local papers. They do not simply give to local online news organizations. They have willingly given money from their member of Parliament budgets to Facebook and others, so let us just spare the self righteous sanctimony about the evil of Facebook, when they are voluntarily giving it tens of thousands of dollars a year out of their own budgets.
In Chilliwack—Hope we now have only one weekly newspaper in each community. There is the Hope Standard and the Chilliwack Progress, which serve those communities respectively. It used to be, when I was first elected, that there were two local newspapers in Chilliwack, the Chilliwack Times and the Chilliwack Progress, and they both published two papers a week. We are down from two organizations with two newspapers, for a total of four editions a week, to one edition per week.
However, if we ask the Chilliwack Progress's editor, he is quite bullish about its current situation. He talks about its various revenue streams, and whenever somebody calls into question the paper's longevity and whether the Chilliwack Progress will survive, he assures his readers and the people in Chilliwack that it is on a strong financial footing and that they will be just fine.
Out of those closures of some of those newspapers came innovation. Journalists who had been employed, for instance, at the Chilliwack Times took it upon themselves to gather a couple of other journalists, and they formed the Fraser Valley Current.
They put together an online news service that actually uses Twitter and Facebook to distribute its product to our community. They did particularly excellent work during the flood and mudslide events that took place in and around my community in November of last year. They were on the ground, providing detailed analysis, things that, quite frankly, a weekly newspaper just cannot do. That was born out of innovation. They did not wait for, or need, a government incentive to create this. They went out into the marketplace and have been very successful in doing so.
We also have the Fraser Valley News, which is an online organization run, as far as I know, by one journalist who used to work, for many years, in different radio newsrooms right across the country, as most radio news people do. They move around from small town to small town, covering small community events that are ignored by the bigger publications. Don Lehn had the final layoff from the local radio station when it was cutting back on its news services, and he took it upon himself to create the Fraser Valley News, which continues today. Again, he has a business model that seeks online ad revenue, etc. He did not need Bill C-18 to succeed.
We have Fraser Valley Today, which is another online news organization that has come out of when other newspapers have left the town and there is a void. When the newsrooms were cut from the local radio station, there was a void, and it was filled by journalists who wanted to provide a service to our community.
That innovation, the unique business model they have sought out, has been one that has worked for them. My fear was echoed by Jen Gerson at the committee, when she said this about the bill:
[I]t is predicated on a lie. The bill adopts a very ancient complaint of newspaper publishers that aggregation-based news websites and social media networks are unduly profiting by “publishing” our content. However, we know this isn't true. In fact, the value proposition runs in exactly the opposite direction. We publishers are the ones who benefit when a user posts a link to our content on Facebook, Twitter and the like. This free distribution drives traffic to our websites, which we can then try to monetize through subscriptions and advertising.
She went on to say:
I suspect that what we see here is a form of rent-seeking behaviour in which struggling media corporations are using every last iota of their dwindling financial and social capital to lobby for subsidies and regulations like Bill C-18.
I fear that Bill C-18 is going to backfire spectacularly, undermining the very problems it is trying to fix.
Peter Menzies, a former CRTC commissioner, said:
Bill C-18 will only perpetuate a market already distorted by subsidy and it will punish independence.
He went on:
If Parliament values a free press, it will not approve Bill C-18.
Bill C-18 is as likely to kill journalism in Canada as it is to save it. The very prospect of it is already perverting news coverage and undermining trust, the commodity upon which the industry depends most. Bill C-18 will permanently entrench the industry's dependency not on the loyalty of citizens, readers and viewers, but upon the good graces of politicians and the ability of offshore, quasi-monopoly tech companies to remain profitable.
Those are some of the people who have been directly involved in the industry. Jen Gerson used to be involved in the traditional news model and has moved to an online subscriber model. She recognizes that this independence and this business model are what work for her, and that organizations who say they need a subsidy model are in fact distorting that market and are going to be competing with her and her organization, which has gone out into the market to seek innovative solutions.
There are local journalists who are struggling, but I think we need to encourage them to use the tools that are available and, quite frankly, to take a look at some of the entities that have succeeded in this market and are innovating and adapting to changes in the way we consume our news.