Last week, I wrote about the controversial Alberta Sovereignty Act. A piece of Canadian Legislature that the media had claimed would split apart the country and impoverish Albertans if passed. Four days later, the Albertan legislative assembly voted to pass the act.
Now the battle begins.
I am not sure why I am so keen to watch this unfold - partially because I believe it is somewhat doomed.
I sincerely hope not. I think Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is the first powerful political voice in Canada to oppose Justin Trudeau publicly - this isn’t important for any reason other than the importance of opposition.
Love or hate her arguments, any student of history can appreciate the importance of balanced debate and the danger of authority left unchecked.
The federal government of Canada is largely the villain in this legislature, and we can expect them to respond accordingly. The efficacy of this bill will be discussed in parliament, but more importantly, the government will leverage the most effective tool for swaying public sentiment - the media.
Since 2019, the Liberal government has handed out $715,000,000 in subsidies to the media industry.
It began with the $50 million Local Journalism Initiative, followed by the $595 million salary subsidy (commonly referred to as the newspaper bailout), then the $60 million pandemic-specific Emergency Support Fund and most recently, the $10 million “Special Measures for Journalism” top-up for 2021-22.
Eligible recipients of these subsidies were required to meet a predetermined set of criteria, including:
1. The eligible organizations must be organized as a corporation, partnership or trust - no sole proprietorships. 2. The organization must cover matters of general interest but not primarily focused on a particular topic - no industry-specific platforms.
Applying these rules to the corporate structure and mission statements of businesses means a disqualification of any boutique, special focus or independent journalism.
So instead of building up the next generation of writers and start-up media businesses who are most likely to save the struggling industry, we will float the stumbling dinosaurs who are taking it down.
Close to $600 million of this money was allegedly geared to help news companies navigate the digital transformation of their industry. That argument would have held water… in 2005… maybe.
But if a legacy media organization still hasn’t figured out their digital strategy by 2019, then why on earth are we saving them? To reward blatant and gross incompetence?
I have interviewed two media titans who successfully navigated the digitization of the print business. One was Lord Conrad Black, who spent the 1980s and 1990s building $3 Billion in value through an international newspaper enterprise - he subsequently sold his interest a small handful of years before the precipitous decline in print advertising. The second was Steve Forbes, who spotted the transition early and pivoted the Forbes enterprise - a 105-year-old business founded in 1917 and quintupled the company's value by leveraging the free international distribution that digitization offered.
Many entrepreneurs got this transition right.
To reach back and drag along those who slept on the innovative opportunities in their industry at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer - and then attribute these welfare dollars to the political party in office is a blend of power and nefarious incompetence.
What is the result?
A journalism industry that accepts money from the individuals they are supposed to report on. This is the definition of a conflict of interest.
So the customer is no longer right… the liberal party donors are. The advertisers come in second, while the lowly readers sit last on the hierarchy of needs.
This isn’t me pointing to some convoluted deep-state conspiracy. These are the basics of incentive structures. At the end of the day, few of us are strong enough to “do the right thing” at the cost of our livelihood.
What can we expect?
During the passing of the Alberta Sovereignty Act, CBC hosted a spirited debate covering the “ins and outs” of the bill. They spent an hour discussing the motivations behind the act with four panellists - the only problem was they forgot to invite anyone from Alberta to join the conversation. So instead, the audience got to hear from British Columbia and Ontario on the implications of the Albertan legislature.
Global News printed their version, but instead of speaking to anyone from the Conservative party involved in the bill, they went straight to the opposition and opened their article with the following bias-heavy paragraph:
“Alberta’s Opposition NDP says the first sitting under Premier Danielle Smith was a short, chaotic mess with the passage of a sovereignty act that dooms the province to confusion over who follows which laws.”
I expect more of the same in the months to come.
The media industry in Canada is not a place to go if you wish to learn about an issue and form your own opinion. It is a perfect place to go if you want your opinion formed for you.