The overwhelming bulk of Canada’s media is bought, and paid for, by the federal government. In particular, by the Liberal Party which has extended generous taxpayer subsidies to outlets that comply with its diktats.
In its 2019 budget, the federal government rolled out nearly $600 million in subsidies for select media outlets that obtain the federal government’s approval. The latest $600 million cheque is meant to fill a blind spot in exerting government influence over the Canadian print and online media.
This was a ‘blind spot’, because most of the rest of the Canadian media is already on the take.
Magazines receive large subsidies to defray the costs of printing, and mailing. Massive “regulatory subsidies” give a cornered market to the government’s favoured broadcasters, and make entry by competitors (like the late Sun News Network) virtually impossible.
The elephant of government media control is obviously the CBC, with an annual bill to taxpayers well in excess of $1 billion.
By handing nearly $600 million directly to select newspapers, the government isn’t doing anything new. It’s just extending the control that it had over other mediums, to traditional mainstream newspapers.
To dole out the cash, the Liberals created a handpicked panel, giving the bailout an appearance of distance from direct partisan intervention. Unsurprisingly, the panel was stacked with Liberal allies, some quite openly so.
In August, Winnipeg Free Press Publisher and Liberal media panelist Bob Cox, awarded himself a large grant from the $50 million Local Journalism Initiative. He cut himself the cheque to hire two new reporters, including a “climate change correspondent”. What that reporter does all day is anybody’s guess, but that “reporter” owes his or her own job directly to the Liberal government. Can we expect that person to do anything but toe the party line? For all intents and purposes, this person is an employee of the federal government. And not a reporter.
Even those not directly hired with a large grant in the print business will owe a large portion of their take-home pay to the federal government. The Journalism Labour Credit allows the orwellianly-named “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” to apply for a 25 per cent refundable tax credit, with a cap of $13,750 per employee.
This puts even credible and reputable reporters, columnists, editors, and publishers in a massive conflict of interest.
MacLeans and iPolitics columnist Stephen Maher wrote in June 2019 that since everyone else is getting bailout out, why not the media?
“The public policy argument for some kind of measure to shore up public interest journalism is clear as day. For good or ill, the federal government has long been in the bailout business. Taxpayers spent $3.5 billion bailing out automakers.”
The auto bailout was actually $17 billion, but he has a point. In crony capitalism, every rent-seeking business needs to get their hands in the pie or risk paying the bill for it. But he is wrong on the necessity of.
“Federal governments routinely act to protect important parts of the economy. When an industry is important enough to our society, Ottawa is forced to act. Banks. Farms. Airlines. Airplane manufacturers. Oil companies. Every significant sector is subsidized or bailed out in one way or another. Few industries are as important to our society as the news media, but so far the government has done nothing but consult.”
The Liberals cut a $595 million cheque soon after, but I can’t recall an oilfield bailout.
The media is important. Without it, the only voices would be the official government line, and Karen on Twitter. But at what cost are we willing to keep the legacy corporate media afloat?
“Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells argue that if the government starts to pay our bills, we will inevitably start to suck up to governments, or at least to government,” said Maher. “I’m not so sure…An awful lot of our media is already subsidized, either directly by government, like news magazines, or through CRTC-mandated cable fees and industry funds, like TV news.”
Again, Maher is correct in that most of the other mediums of media are propped up by the government. His case that all of these other mediums are objective, fair and non-partisan is a bit flimsier.
Most of the media miss the point in boiling media objectivity down to a matter of partisanship. Whether a media outlet is Conservative, Liberal, or NDP is only semi-relevant. Where a media comes down on issues, policy, and ideology, is much more so.
Liberal media outlets like the Toronto Star were glowing of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government when it enacted ideologically liberal, interventionist policies like the auto bailout. Their only criticism was that it wasn’t enough. Similarly, conservative media outlets praised the Chretien Liberal government in the 1990s when it slashed spending to slay the deficit, as conservatives wanted.
Where a media outlet stands on the issues is a lot more important than where it stands on partisanship.
When every major media outlet in Canada is directly on the government take, this cannot help but to influence their coverage toward issues. Can the National Post credibly make the case against the next Bombardier bailout if it is receiving an annual, guaranteed bailout of its own?
And are the media organizations that are already receiving government-backing (like CBC, CTV and Global) immune from the influence of being on government support? Name one of them that is even mildly conservative or libertarian.
When Stephen Harper cut the CBC’s $1 billion budget by 5 per cent, the network launched a holy war against him. When Justin Trudeau promised a massive increase to their budget, they hailed him as the Second Coming (which, in a sense, he was).
There is a small but growing list of upstart alternative media entering the market. Most will not qualify for government funding, likely by design. The Liberals tied themselves into pretzels to prevent Ezra Levant’s Rebel News from qualifying. This was a bad idea for several reasons.
First, if Rebel News did qualify, and did accept the money, it would have blown its reputation as an outsider media outfit, righteously blasting the mainstream media for its complacency. In all probability, Rebel Newswould have refused the money if it was available for that reason. Much the same as the Western Standard.
Second, by creating a regulatory rat’s nest to exclude Rebel Media, they made it much more difficult for other up-and-coming alternative media sources to compete with the big, dying, legacy media sources. By advantaging the media outlets whose business models are failing them, the government gives them a massive competitive edge over their new challengers in the market.
The Liberals tweaked this a bit by giving themselves an even greater latitude in selecting which favoured media outlets qualify, by creating a government media licensing program. Only “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” get in on the good times.
In addition to creating artificial advantages for some media sources over others, they have also gone down the dark, authoritarian road of deciding who is a “real journalist”, and who is not.
For our part, the Western Standard will not be registering for a government media license, and we will not be accepting bailout dollars. This puts us at a legally designed, permanent competitive disadvantage with our competitors. But as the publisher and primary owner, I would rather go bankrupt than corrupt ourselves for thirty pieces of silver.
Trudeau’s media bailout will not save the newspaper business. It will put it in a complacent, comatose state on life support, fearful that if it acts against its master, that the plug could be pulled at any time.
Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. firstname.lastname@example.org
Retired soldier using haunting past to help homeless vets in Calgary
And now Hopkins is turning his focus to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans
Dean Hopkins has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer.
But now he’s using the haunting memories he has to try and help homeless veterans in Calgary who have fallen through society’s cracks.
Hopkins is the founder of One Direction Calgary, a charitable organization whose focus is to bring groups and charities together. To achieve greater success through collaboration.
And now he’s turning his energy to create Guardians for Heroes, a charity whose sole focus is to try and end the scourge of homelessness amongst veterans, many of them suffering from the mental effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Hopkins knows how these veterans feel, with a three-decade career behind him in the British military, that took him to the world’s hotspots.
The 57-year-old did a whopping 16 tours of duty – everywhere from Iraq to North Ireland to Africa.
But it was a scene 28 years ago in Bosnia that haunts Hopkins and steers his charity work to this day.
Hopkins was in charge of an observation post in Bosnia, in command of peacekeeping troops who had orders to observe and not engage.
Hopkins refuses any elaboration to the story but there’s no doubt it lit the fire currently burning within.
“What I saw in Bosnia was terrible, the worst of humanity. I decided right then I would find a peaceful city in a peaceful country and try and give back to veterans,” he said.
After three decades of accepting the Queen’s shilling, Hopkins decided to retire to Calgary.
“The people here are the best people I’ve found anywhere,” Hopkins said.
In the last 12 months, Hopkins has brought together the Calgary Veterans Food Bank and Hoggin Alberta to start work on a sanctuary, away from the city, for stressed former vets.
The group plans to build 28 cabins on their land to get the veterans back to nature – with fishing, hunting and camping.
“I’m very passionate when I see homeless veterans that have fallen through the cracks of a society that sees them as a liability,” he said.
Hopkins realizes his dream is now at a point, that it will need government grants and other donations to succeed the way he wants. He estimates it will take $14 million to get Guardians for Heroes fully working.
Not only would Guardians for Heroes help veterans, but Hopkins said it would be open to all past and current emergency workers.
He’s urging all veterans groups to contact him and work together for the greater good.
“There are a plethora of veterans groups out there – from biker ones to hunting ones. I want to know all about them and what work they do. I want to talk to them and start collaborating with all the different groups.”
“My strengths are organizing groups and acting as a mediator. To be honest, we will need the premier (Kenney) on this. We need someone in our group that can navigate the corridors of power to the person in charge of the cash register,” Hopkins said.
“People say it can’t be done. But people who know me, know that if I set my mind to it, I will get it done, whether it takes five years, 10 years, 20 years.”
Once established in Alberta, Hopkins hopes to extend across the country with his front-line “Stand Down” centres.
“All military people understand what ‘Stand Down’ means,” Hopkins said, adding he hopes to set up centres where front-line workers can bring in homeless vets who will be met with staff who can start the process of getting their lives turned around.
Hopkins said services for veterans in Canada are about 10 years behind what they are currently offered in Europe.
“What I’m asking now is for people who have a similar vision to call me. I’m just a cog in what could become a very big machine,” Hopkins said.
The One Direction charity can be accessed through their website.
WESTROCK: Big Sugar on their Alberta anthem, and what’s next for the band
The Western Standard spoke with Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar.
I was excited to interview Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar on a live Western Standard broadcast, but with tech issues, I had to stand on the sidelines and watch our Publisher Derek Fildebrandt do it for me. As a Big Sugar fanboy, he didn’t seem to mind though. C’est la vie.
There was much respect though as I viewed and could hear Derek apologizing and giving me props for setting up the interview. In fact, Derek told Gordie that during the application for the job as the Western Standard’s new music columnist, that if I could get an interview with one his favorite Canadian artists Big Sugar, I had the job.
It took me 24 hours to set it up. I got the job.
The beginning of the interview was some chit chat back and forth and Derek made it known that he was a huge Big Sugar fan and that he originally was just going to be my kind of Ed McMahaon or Paul Shaffer, but fate must have been involved and he had Gordie all to himself. “Maybe there’s some subterfuge going on” he joked.
In case you are not aware, Big Sugar was formed in Toronto in 1988 and over the years the band has released 11 studio albums with the most recent being ‘Eternity Now’, which for various reasons took two years to record. The band and Gordie have also received many Juno nominations and many of their albums have hit Gold or Platinum status. In addition to ‘Eternity Now’, the band decided to also rerelease a vinyl version of one of their best selling albums, ‘Hemi-Vision’ this past year.
Gordie was asked about his musical influences and across the board styles.
“Well music is just the language I speak and I hear funk in my heavy metal. I hear rock when I listen to reggae, and that’s what a Big Sugar show is about; there is so much complexity and it makes you move and feel good”
The interview then got a bit scary (for me} as Derek mentioned that I said that Gordie resembled Julian from the Trailer Park Boys.
“Tell Ernest I’m going to kick his ass after school” was the singer-guitarist’s reply.
From there we delved into how the impact of Gary Lowe’s passing a couple years ago after a two year battle with cancer had on the band.
“First of all, it was devastating and there was no getting over it…I mean I know his kids and Gary was unique in what he brought to the studio and our friendship was unique. Moving forward, I didn’t hire guys to sound like him; I hired guys to be themselves and that is why Big Sugar has been successful over the years.”
As I noted above, Fildebrandt is a pretty much a Big Sugar groupie. He literally talked my ear off about Gordie and his favourite Sugar song, ‘All Hell for a Basement’.
I listened to the song and although I liked the vibe and groove, the important thing I noted is that the title was attributed to the famous poet laureate Rudyard Kipling who was born in Bombay in 1865 and traveled the world and wrote and studied. In 1907, his travels landed him in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he coined the phrase “All hell for a Basement” referring to the region’s vast reserves of natural gas beneath the soil.
Gordie confirmed that fact. “Back in the day in downtown Medicine Hat, they literally would just stick a pipe in the ground and light it and use it for a street light” No joke.
Johnson grew up between Ontario and The Hat.
Although the song is written as kind of an athem for oil and natural gas rich Alberta, Gordie says it was more of a song about displacement as Newfoundlanders in their thousands crossed the country to find work in the oilfields as the cod fishing industry dried up.
“I just thought that was an amazing cultural phoenomena that was happening in Canada and nobody was talking about it.”
Johnston said that he still can’t play the song without tearing up.
“It’s a song about displaced people.”
“I wrote it about a young fellah – a guy in his 20s – who was working in the oilfield, who had moved from Newfoundland with his family…He couldn’t have been further from home. He was trying to make a new life for himself in Fort McMurray, Alberta.”
Johnson tells the story of a time he was in a Newfoundland pub drinking – and not preforming – and a traditional Irish folk group starting playing the song.
Another time he was working with a traditional Irish-folk musician from Newfoundland who told him – in a thick Newfie accent – “Big Sugar did not write that song. That’s a traditional old Newfoundlander song.”
Fildebrandt asked him if he believes he would get more blowback – or even get ‘canceled’ for releasing such an openly pro-oil and gas worker song. Johnson’s answer was shocking.
“We got in trouble back in 2001. You know why that song was never a radio single? Because record companies based in Toronto. You get 12 guys that live in Toronto sitting around a board room table, they say ‘ you can put that out, because they’re not going to play it anywhere else…People want to sing it everywhere we go. No record company execs have ever been as wrong as, shall be nameless.”
“We took the heat for it back in the day.” Johnston said they also took hell for putting a rock version of ‘O’Canada’ on the album.
To give more context of how much of a huge Gordie-fan Derek is, I had originally asked Gordies’ assistant if he could some how play the first couple of bars to ‘All Hell For a Basement’ either during the intro or ending of the interview. I was politely turned down through an email as Gordie was doing some session work and was just going to stop long enough to take the interview. At that point, I garnered a lot of respect for him.
Funny thing is that Derek (knowing this) persisted politely and since he was the host due to my technically-challenged demise, asked Gordie the same question. I laughed as Gordie very respectfully denied him and explained the situation…again.
I could feel the crushing blow and tearing of my new employer’s heart.
Although being in lockdown for the better part of 2020, it has still been a busy year for Gordie and Sugar as ‘Hemi-Vision’ was rereleased with some hidden gems on it that they pulled out of the vault such as a Beatles cover, and also the release of ‘Eternity Now’ by “Big Sugar 3.0”. It’s 3.0 according to Gordie because the band is always evolving, and with new members it was almost like a new band in many ways.
One of the questions that I had prepared and passed along during interview was to ask who Gordie thought was a great upcoming band or underrated artist. In a very honest and politically phrased answer, he said it would be a disservice to really mention anyone because there are so many that he would be regret if he forgot to mention someone.
The longer they chatted, Mr. Johnson did confess that he had a soft spot for the Vancouver music scene, as that is where he met his wife. He also coughed up that there are some really great musicians there and one happens to be his buddy Rich Hope.
“He’s one of those dudes that still rides his skateboard to work and has this big black Les Paul and he just embodies Rock n’ Roll and at my age he is still just shredding on it, and I can’t just limit it to Richie. Jay Sparrow is another one and the list goes on and on.”
So the moral of the story is that if you get Gordie to talk long enough, he’ll eventually slip up and I’m sure Ritchie and Jay appreciate the plug.
Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard
Join Ernest for a live-streamed interview on Friday February 5 at 7 pm MST with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and the Trans Siberian Orchestra.
WATCH: Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar
We interviewed Gordie Johnston of Big Sugar on the origins of his Alberta anthem ‘All Hell for a Basement’ and what’s next for the band.
Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt interviews Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar
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