The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and Francophonie
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism
Madam Minister, Mr. Minister,
The Association de la presse francophone (APF) and the Quebec community Newspapers association (QCNA) were looking forward to the tabling of the 2019 Federal Government Budget with great hope. Since 2016, the APF and QCNA have shared their expectations with the government so that newspapers in our official language minority communities (OLMCs) can continue to protect democracy and serve the public interest within their respective communities.
The measures proposed in your budget to support Canadian journalism show that the government has not considered the most vulnerable Canadian newspapers that serve OLMCs in Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. The proposed eligibility criteria for an eligible Canadian journalistic organization (OJCA) do not consider the needs and realities of the smallest newspapers in our OLMCs.
Due to decisions made by the federal government in the past decade, including the virtual disappearance of federal advertising in OLMC media, most of our newspapers have been forced to adapt their business model by reducing the number of journalists. To be considered an OJCA and to be eligible for the tax credit, the media must employ at least two journalists at least 26 hours per week. The media will not be able to access the tax credit if it is already receiving a grant from the Canada Periodical Fund’s Aid to Publishers program. These criteria disqualify many of our newspapers twice rather than once.
However, Part VII of the Official Languages Act (OLA) requires federal institutions to apply criteria that consider the realities and needs of OLMCs when developing programs and services.
Community media play an essential role in the development and vitality of OLMCs and are often the only source of written information in official languages in a minority situation for an entire province or territory. The report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (June 2017) eloquently demonstrates this. The conclusions of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’ final investigation report (June 2017), agree with the same conclusion.
While the 2018-2023 Action Plan for Official Languages offered us some support to better serve OLMCs in terms of civic journalism, the measures only partially meet the pressing needs of our newspapers, which, despite their sustained efforts, are unable to cover the substantial losses of the past ten years.
At this point, the status quo is not acceptable as it will result in the most vulnerable being very disadvantaged and some of our media will not survive. We will contact your office in the coming days to obtain an emergency meeting to identify, with you, winning solutions to ensure that the government respects its obligations under Part VII of the OLA and allows official language minority community newspapers to benefit from the positive measures to support Canadian journalism announced in your budget this week.
LILY RYAN FRANCIS SONIER
Interim President President
Quebec Community Newspapers Association Press Association Francophone