Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for South Surrey—White Rock.
I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to an issue that is very important to me, namely the media. The media and local newspapers play a crucial role all across Canada. I am particularly proud of the media in my riding, Lac-Saint-Jean, including our Trium Media newspapers, L'Étoile du lac, Le Lac-Saint-Jean and Le Nouvelles Hebdo, which provide quality content to the people of Lac-Saint-Jean.
Whether we want to know about politics, general news, culture or sports, we can count on the professionalism of our journalists to keep us up to date on local news. Unfortunately, access to trustworthy and professional journalism is becoming increasingly rare. Canadians do not have the access they once did to reliable local news because of the drastic changes besetting our media.
Right now, in this era of fake news, people should not rely on Facebook as their only news source. On my Facebook page recently, I learned that a Second World War submarine had been discovered in Lac-Saint-Jean. What the heck, how did it get there?
Newspapers in particular are struggling to fulfill their civic duties at the local level, hence the importance of having local news. I am not going to find local news stories or the ice-out forecast for the local lake in La Presse or Le Devoir. I am and will always be in favour of a strong, free local press. Our local newspapers are the backbone of information in our communities. In the era of the information explosion and platform proliferation, our local newspapers offer a regional view of the issues and are vital to local debate.
A recent study on local media coverage entitled “Mind the Gaps: Quantifying the Decline of News Coverage in Canada” noted that over the past 10 years, the number of local newspaper articles fell by half. Fifty percent of articles disappeared.
Since 2008, 41 daily newspapers have closed down, along with 235 weeklies. During the same period, the sector shed over 10,000 jobs. This is a real crisis that is hitting Canada's print media.
Sadly, the Conservatives would rather bury their heads in the sand while the news industry crumbles around them. The challenges that the media has encountered are significant. As we say back home, even a blind person could see this.
It is important to remember that for a democracy to work properly, it is vital that we have a strong, independent news media. It is the very foundation of democracy. An independent press must have the financial means to keep our citizens informed. A press that is near bankruptcy is not a free press.
That is why our government is getting to the heart of the problem and implementing concrete measure to support Canadian newspapers, big and small. Budget 2019 proposes three new tax measures to support Canadian journalism: first, allowing journalistic organizations to register as qualified donees; second, creating a refundable labour tax credit for eligible journalistic organizations; and third, creating a non-refundable tax credit for subscriptions to Canadian digital media platforms.
Together these concrete measures will do a lot to help support the production of professional journalistic content.
Canadians should have access to a vast array of independent, trustworthy news sources. The government must ensure that these tax measures are implemented at arm's length from the government with the help of people who have practical experience in the sector, the people who are part of the print journalism chain of production in Canada. That is exactly why, on May 22, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism announced the creation of an advisory panel to recommend eligibility criteria for the tax measures. All that is integral to implementing these measures: looking to experts to ensure that the criteria published in the latest federal budget are precise and meet the industry's needs.
The minister mentioned that eight organizations would be invited to submit the name of a candidate for the advisory panel. They include four associations representing publishers: News Media Canada, which represents over 750 Canadian newspapers across the country; the Association de la presse francophone, which represents francophone newspapers in minority communities; the Quebec Community Newspapers Association, which represents newspapers in Quebec's anglophone communities; and the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, which represents over 450 ethnic newspapers. Also included are two unions representing newsroom employees, the Fédération nationale des communications and Unifor, and two associations representing journalists, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
These are all well-known groups, most of them with a national profile, and they represent the majority of the workers involved in the production of print news in Canada. They are in the best position to provide informed advice to ensure the fair and optimal implementation and operation of these tax measures. The Conservatives would rather have just CEOs at the table making the decisions. They think they understand the situation on the ground better than the workers. By attacking the independence of the media, the Conservatives are implying that journalists can be bought. Their conspiracy theories are insulting. When multiple MPs, some of them respected former journalists themselves, say that the press can be bought, it is frankly insulting and proves that even back then, they were in the pocket of powerful interests.
The Conservatives have a problem with journalists and the truth. Just last week, the Leader of the Opposition demonstrated a lack of respect for journalistic independence. He tried to dictate what Radio-Canada can and cannot say or do, despite the fact that 80% of Canadians support increasing funding to the public broadcaster. It certainly has to be done. We on this side of the House will always stand up for journalistic independence. It is a pillar of democracy. The media provides citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions on important issues and helps keep institutions accountable, including governments.
In closing, Canadians are entitled to consult a wide range of independent, reliable information sources, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that they have access to those sources.