‘Garbage Decision’: Trudeau Criticizes Bell’s Layoff of Journalists, Sale of Radio Stations

‘Garbage Decision’: Trudeau Criticizes Bell’s Layoff of Journalists, Sale of Radio Stations
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview at the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Matthew Horwood

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he was “furious” with a decision by Bell Canada to fire nine percent of its workforce and slash nearly half of its regional radio stations, saying the move will harm local journalism across Canada.

“I’m furious. This is a garbage decision by a corporation that should know better,” the prime minister told reporters during a press conference in King City, Ont.

“We’ve seen over the past years, journalistic outlets, radio stations, and small community newspapers, bought up by corporate entities, who then lay off journalists, change the quality of offering to people, and then when people don’t watch or engage as much, the corporate entity says ’see, they’re not profitable anymore, we’re going to sell them off.'”

Bell CEO Mirko Bibic revealed in an open letter Feb. 8 that 4,800 jobs at “all levels of the company” would be slashed as part of a restructuring effort. He said the decision was being made in response to “difficult” economic conditions and government regulatory decisions that “undermine” investments in Bell networks in relation to other global tech giants. As a result, advertising revenues have dipped by $140 million in 2023 from the previous year, he said.

The company’s news operations have been losing $40 million each year, he said, necessitating the closing of 45 of its 103 radio stations and the scaling-back of news stations like CTV and BNN Bloomberg. Noon newscasts at all CTV stations except Toronto will be scrapped, as will 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts on weekends at all CTV and CTV2 stations except in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.

This is the second major layoff at the company since the spring of 2023, when six percent of Bell Media jobs and nine radio stations were scrapped.

‘Furious’ With Bell’s Decision

Mr. Trudeau told reporters that “local, quality journalism” was being eroded at a time when misinformation and disinformation are threatening democracies around the world.

The prime minister added that journalists’ ability to tell the stories of Canadians is what holds the country together.

“We need those local voices. And over the past years, corporate Canada, and there are many culprits in this, have abdicated their responsibility toward the communities that they have always made very good profits off of, in various ways,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau said while the federal government had “stepped up” to support local journalism in the country, Canadians needed to “demand better” from corporate leaders, who are “eroding Canadians’ ability to know each other, to trust each other, and to trust in the country and the future we are building together.”

Back in 2018, the Liberal government introduced tax credits and financial incentives totalling nearly $600 million to assist Canadian media organizations over the next five years. More recently, the Liberals negotiated a deal with Google that would see the tech giant pay $100 million annually to Canadian media companies through the Online News Act.

CBC/Radio-Canada also announced in December 2023 that it had plans to cut 10 percent of its workforce and scale down programming in some areas to deal with a $125 million budget deficit. The CBC receives around $1.3 billion in funding from the federal government annually.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who proposed to “defund” the CBC when he was running for leadership of the party in 2022, has vowed to maintain funding for Radio-Canada’s French-language programming,