The Canadian Government’s Ministry of Truth

In 2019, during the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner, Justin Trudeau spoke about media bias:

You sometimes hear about liberal bias in the media these days—how they’re constantly letting our government off the hook for no good reason. Frankly, I think that’s insulting. It’s clear that they let us off the hook for a very good reason: Because we pay them $600 million. You don’t get stellar headlines like these without greasing the wheels a bit.

Although the prime minister’s words were tongue in cheek, they proved prophetic, as Canada’s media landscape is becoming more government-owned.

The recent government’s fall economic statement increased the Canadian Journalism Tax credit from 25 percent to 35 percent and the annual cap per newsroom employee increased from $55,000 to $85,000. Along with Google’s $100 million in new funding as part of the Bill C-18 legislation, Canadian newsrooms are essentially 50 percent government-subsidized. The lead lobbyist for the bailout, News Media Canada, got everything it wanted to the last dollar.

The digital revolution has wrought havoc on the media industry, losing $4.9 billion in revenue during the past 12 years as 450 news outlets were eliminated and a third of all journalism jobs were lost. But is more government ownership the answer? Can a journalist who receives half their salary through government subsidies hold the government to account for its actions? Or will the journalist succumb to the pressure of self-censorship and protect their pay cheque by producing politically correct articles that are in keeping with the government narrative?

Canadians know that the government is influencing news coverage of political events as trust in news continues to decline. The University of Oxford’s Digital News Report found that only 42 percent of Canadians trust “most news,” representing a 13 percent decline since 2016. Only 27 percent of Canadians think the news media is independent of any political influence, which is a decline of 10 percentage points versus 2017, and 51 percent believe that the country’s news organizations share the same political point of view.

Speaking in front of MPs during the Bill C-18 committee meetings, Jen Gerson, editor of The Line’s online newsletter, was succinct: “I have real concerns about making media outlets dependent on revenue that is subject to the whims of the government in power. The industry’s dependence on these revenue streams makes us pawns of partisan politics whether we wish to be or not.” 

Then there is the government’s very own “Ministry of Truth,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which received $1.24 billion in annual funding in 2022 and whose ratings continue to fall. This past year CBC’s national prime-time time viewing dropped to 4.4 percent, excluding Saturday, plummeting from 7.6 percent in 2018. In other words, 95.6 percent of TV-watching Canadians don’t bother to watch CBC’s English prime-time programming. Yet, while its ratings are in the dumpster, the folks at the CBC are getting richer. 

According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, from the time the Liberals returned to power they have added $300 million to the CBC budget, and the number of employees earning more than $100,000 has more than doubled from 400 to 900. During the pandemic, when small businesses were forced to shut down, the CBC paid $51 million in bonuses and salary increases equal to roughly $14,000 per employee. 

The CBC has become the ivory tower of Canadian journalism; its management refuses to deal with the harsh realities of a television universe with hundreds of stations, a multitude of available streaming services, and a marketplace that is killing off old news models and being replaced by digital innovation. The Trudeau Liberals keep pouring money into the CBC as if it is the cultural glue that holds the world’s first post-national state together.

As government ownership of the media increases, coverage of serious issues decreases. Legacy media covers issues of the day with a light touch without the critical eye needed to hold the government accountable. When Justin Trudeau’s brownface photos first appeared, they did not emerge from any Canadian media source but from Time magazine in the U.S. Bill C-18 extracted $100 million from Google while Meta walked away when it was already contributing millions, but the story barely saw daylight. 

The coverage of Canada’s quest to become an EV superpower is another example of scant critical reporting. Thirty-one billion in corporate welfare to Volkswagen and Stellantis to build EV battery plants, or how Ottawa has rolled out its timeline for the country’s transition to electric vehicles by 2035. “They’ve put forward a regulation which will dictate what Canadians can and can’t buy without providing the necessary supports to 100 percent target,” said Brian Kingston, President of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association. Little has been written about the government’s heavy-handed approach that will result in a shortage of cars and make them much more expensive for the average working person. 

During an interview with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre stated, “I am going to save a billion dollars defunding the CBC.” Poilievre has laid his cards on the table, but how will legacy media cover the upcoming election when the industry needs Poilievre to lose and the Liberal party to win to secure its survival? 

Judging by a year-end political analysis conducted by the CBC’s senior writer who summarises Trudeau’s 2023 failures, “the Liberal government’s struggles in 2023 might be that Justin Trudeau’s side lacked a compelling narrative—a tidy story to tell about itself and the country.” 

Yet, there is no doubt that legacy media will write a compelling narrative for the Liberals during the upcoming election. After all, that is why the liberal government is investing hundreds of millions in the Ministry of Truth to produce the Orwellian outcome of erasing the truth of the past and present. Through greater media ownership, the Liberals can control the message and define what “truth” is.

Francis Crescia is a York University graduate with an honors B.A in political science with a business career background as an IT executive and photojournalist. He currently blogs about politics and economics.
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