Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez yesterday defended taxpayers’ aid for a “bankrupt press”. Cabinet in 2019 is to detail a proposed $595 million, five-year subsidy program for chosen news media deemed to meet unspecified criteria for reliability.
“A bankrupt press is not a free press,” Rodriguez told the Commons. “A bankrupt press is not an independent press. A bankrupt press is not a press at all.”
The Minister’s remarks came under questioning of a $355,950 sole-sourced contract to Torstar Corporation to have reporters attend public meetings of two parliamentary committees, Commons finance and Senate banking. The contract was approved by the Superintendent of Financial Institutions on October 25. It was cancelled December 5 after the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman intervened.
“Committee meetings are public,” said MP John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfil, Ont.), deputy Conservative whip. “Did the Prime Minister pay the Toronto Star for favourable content as we head into an election year?”
“The Conservatives do not want to hear from professional journalism,” replied Minister Rodriguez. “I do not know what they have against tough questions. On this side of the House, we are supporting professional journalism. We are ready to take the tough questions, and will do it in a way that the press is independent and free, as it should be.”
“And so it begins,” said MP Brassard: “The Liberals are placing the journalistic integrity of the Parliamentary Press Gallery at stake by putting reporters in a position of not biting the Liberal hand that feeds them. If reporters write content that agrees with the Liberals, they get funding, but be critical of the Liberals, tough luck.”
“Professional journalism is one of the pillars of democracy,” replied Rodriguez. “After attacking professional journalism, what other pillar of our democracy are they going to attack?”
The contract was to take effect November 15. It would have paid Torstar’s iPolitics subsidiary $71,190 annually for five years – a total $355,950 including taxes and options — for “on-demand, subscription-based parliamentary committee monitoring”.
Authorities said the contract was not put to open bidding since only Torstar Corporation was “capable” of attending meetings. All committees are open to the general public. Forty-three other news organizations are accredited to cover meetings on Parliament Hill.
Torstar Corporation reported $106.6 million in net losses on operations in the past two years. Notice of the contract award came fifteen days after Torstar chair John Honderich published an October 10 commentary appealing for federal subsidies. “I think we’d prefer some real action on these files,” wrote Honderich.
Blacklock’s neither solicits nor accepts government grants.