A few weeks ago, I wrote an editorial for this paper about the importance of Bell Media’s ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ campaign. The social media-focused campaign is held every year on Jan. 28 to increase awareness of mental health and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness.
While I still feel Bell Let’s Talk is an important initiative that raises crucial funds for various mental health support programs, recent news makes me want to recant giving the telecommunication company any kind of kudos.
On Feb. 2, news broke that the company was laying off hundreds of its employees. Though Bell Media’s parent company (BCE Inc.) did not confirm the exact number of layoffs, the Toronto Star reported the union that represents Bell Media workers claimed 210 employees in Toronto alone were let go.
In the days afterward, some of my favourite Canadian journalists, on-screen hosts and broadcast personalities announced via social media that they were among the Bell Media employees who were laid off. The cuts gutted Toronto’s News Talk 1010 and Montreal’s CJAD 800 radio stations and also impacted TSN programs and some CTV newsrooms.
The optics of Bell Media’s layoffs are terrible. The company did not just let go of more than 200 employees, but did so on the heels of a nationwide campaign promoting the importance of mental health. I can’t imagine being laid off in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic recession was great for these workers’ mental wellbeing.
And that’s not the end of it. Telecommunications journalist Ahmad Hathout, who runs the blog The UpDown, recently reported Bell Media received $122.8 million from the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program. This subsidy, which was designed to help Canadian companies weather the financial storm brought on by COVID-19, could have certainly gone a long way to keeping the company’s employees on the payroll.
Instead, BCE Inc., announced on Feb. 2 it would be investing $1 billion over the next two years to improve its 5G infrastructure and increase its dividend 5.1 per cent to $3.50 per share, according to Bloomberg.
Toronto-based Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith recently questioned why the company applied for CEWS funding despite boasting a strong financial position. In a parliamentary hearing, he asked a BCE Inc. legal representative why the company felt the need for government assistance when it had $5.2 billion in available liquidity at the end of the third quarter of 2020 – not to mention a 10 per cent growth in internet revenue and a four per cent growth in year-to-date cash flow from operating activities, according to the Star’s report.
Letting go of hundreds of employees, while at the same time applying for government subsidies and increasing dividend payouts to shareholders, make Bell Let's Talk seem like little more than a PR stunt this year.