Editor's note: Bow River Member of Parliament Martin Shields, whose constituency includes the easternmost communities in Rocky View County, recently spoke about the plight of weekly newspapers in the House of Commons. Speaking in the House on May 18, Shields argued federal government advertising dollars should support Canada's weekly newspapers, which have seen advertising revenues plummet in recent years.
Here is a transcription of Shields' speech, edited for clarity:
Speaking about COVID, there is an institution in my riding called the weekly newspaper. There's the Brooks Bulletin, the Chestermere Anchor, the Strathmore Times, the Vauxhall Advance, Taber Times, Vulkan Advocate, Bassano Times, Milo Can Opener, Rocky View Weekly and Three Hills Capital.
What do these outlets have to do with COVID, you ask? Well, these weekly newspapers are the outlets that cover those things in the community these people live in. They also know what's happening with municipal government, schools, clubs, associations and the cultural activities in their communities.
At one time a few years ago, there was government advertising that went to weekly newspapers. Now, where does it go? Well, the prime minister and heritage minister, they complain about the social media giants – Google, Facebook – but that's where the government is putting their advertising dollars. They're taking Canadian taxpayer dollars and putting it into these social media giants. The weekly newspapers in Canada, like those in my riding, are getting one-third of one per cent of what they used to get.
These are the papers that are highly read in my riding. The percentage of residents who read them, whether it's in print, online or both, is huge. That's because these papers are covering the things in their local community. That's where my constituents are getting their information from about COVID in their communities, not from the social media giants. But the federal government complains about the social media giants, and wants to tax them. But if they had spent those dollars from taxpayers on the weekly newspapers in those ridings, those weekly newspapers wouldn't be going out of business. They're providing the media in our local communities, which is critical.
The local daily newspapers? They're not in my riding. Those big dailies are not going to cover all those local communities and issues in my riding. The weeklies do. But this government has shifted our taxpayers' money to those foreign social media giants – the Facebooks and the Googles. That's where they're putting our tax dollars.
If you want to protect our culture in our rural communities, like I have, then you should be putting advertising dollars in those weekly newspapers, which also support the cultural activities in our communities, pro bono. But you prefer to put advertising dollars from Canadian taxpayers outside of our country, and then want to tax them back. That's hypocrisy. We need those advertising dollars in our ridings.