Dear Minister St-Onge,
I am the founder, publisher and editor of Canadian Affairs News Inc. We are a digital newspaper that launched on July 1, 2023 at www.canadianaffairs.news.
I am writing to express my profound concerns about the government’s new law, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada (the Online News Act). This Act represents a grave threat to the company and the professional journalists we employ.
About Canadian Affairs
Canadian Affairs is a nationally-focused, subscription-based newspaper. Our mission is to publish high-quality reported journalism on under-covered topics that matter to the lives and livelihoods of Canadian professionals and families.
In Canadian Affairs’ short life, we have already published articles on topics of great importance to Canadians and governments at all levels. These include articles on:
- Gaps in the national child-care system
- Mounting judicial vacancies
- The business impact of Quebec’s new language law
- The effect of an Alberta court ruling on Canada’s tech sector
- The future of Irving Oil’s Saint John refinery
- Ontario pharmacists’ new prescribing powers
How the Online News Act undermines digital publications
Canadian Affairs’ goal is to be a subscriber-supported company. We aim to produce content so original, important and relevant to our target audiences that they are willing to pay for it.
To achieve this goal, Canadian Affairs must reach a large audience of readers in the next several years. We know that only a small minority of the people who read our content are likely to become paying subscribers. Thus, our success depends on achieving scale.
Unlike the legacy publications, new digital publishers cannot reach readers through newsstands. And they are not known commodities, so people are unlikely to visit their sites unprompted. The only way for Canadian Affairs — and other digital-exclusive news publications — to achieve scale is to leverage two key channels: social media and search engines.
As you know, Meta and Google exert enormous influence over these channels. Meta’s Facebook, Instagram and Threads platforms are responsible for at least half of our social media traffic, and Google is responsible for the vast majority of our search engine traffic.
If the government fails to repeal or amend the Online News Act, or negotiate deals with Meta and Google that benefit all publishers, Canadian Affairs will be unable to build an audience and will not survive.
Of the options listed above, I am unequivocally in favour of the government repealing the Online News Act. The Act, as many others have pointed out, is premised on the lie that Google and Meta are stealing publishers’ content.
Google and Meta are how publishers reach audiences. Just as it would make no sense to charge a billboard for featuring a Globe and Mail ad, it makes no sense to charge these tech platforms for enabling publishers to reach audiences. I do not believe legislation based on a false premise can ever provide a foundation for success between the government and the parties it seeks to regulate.
If the government feels it necessary to support publishers, a sensible alternative would be to increase the digital subscription news tax credit. This would create a level playing field between legacy and new publishers and would reward publishers who best provide the news products that consumers want.
The Online News Act and the government’s handling of it raises profound questions about the government’s understanding of the news landscape and how it can best support it. It also raises questions about the government’s commitment to supporting new entrants into this market.
Are we a country that passes fair laws? Are we a country that genuinely aspires to nurture the growth of new businesses and talent? Are we a country that aims to create a level playing field between incumbents and startups?
The actions that the government has taken so far in this matter suggest not. I hope to be proven wrong.
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