Since her arrival in Ottawa in 2021, Pascale St-Onge has revealed herself to be a rare rising star within a Liberal government otherwise lacking in light. First, as Minister of Sports, she had to manage the storm that engulfed Hockey Canada, forcing Ottawa to cut off the organization’s funds while waiting for it to clean up. Then, last July, she took the helm of the Department of Canadian Heritage at the very time when the Trudeau government was facing an ultimatum from American Web giants in connection with Bill C-18 (which became the Act on online news), which aimed to force them to compensate Canadian media for the use of their content.
Always composed, calm and methodical in her interventions before journalists on Parliament Hill and before the deputies meeting in a parliamentary committee, Mr.me St-Onge appears to be remarkably clever for a politician who is only in her first term in the House of Commons. We saw proof of that again this week. Testifying before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on the agreement reached the day before with Google, Mr.me St-Onge knew how to pique Alberta Conservative MP Rachael Thomas by systematically answering her questions, delivered in English, in the language of Molière.
However, she did not do the same thing when her Ontario Liberal colleague Lisa Hepfner spoke to her in English. She had answered him at length in English, clearly as comfortable in the language of Shakespeare as in her mother tongue.
M’s approachme St-Onge produced the desired results by bringing Mme Thomas to make a request that she had to quickly swallow. Asking the minister to respond in English, Mr.me Thomas aroused the ire not only of all the opposition deputies sitting on the heritage committee, but also of the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, who denounced the return of “this good old speak white » in 2023. This “insult” on the part of the Conservative MP completely obliterated her criticism of the agreement with Google and forced her to present a formal apology. The St-Onge method worked wonderfully.
However, the agreement with Google looks more like a Pyrrhic victory than the historic breakthrough touted by the minister. Certainly, this last minute agreement allows Mme St-Onge to avoid the worst, that is to say a decision by Google to follow the example of Meta, which systematically blocked the sharing of Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram instead of complying with the obligation to compensate the media for the use of their content as required by the Online News Act.
Such an outcome would prove a disaster for the media, already in financial difficulty. It would also prove right the critics of the Online News Act who castigate Ottawa, accusing it of having been clumsy in trying to back the Web giants against the wall by legislating. But the 100 million that Google agrees to pay each year to a media collective in exchange for the use of their content in its search engine are well below the 172 million that Ottawa has already wanted to collect. This is simply equivalent to the amount that the Silicon Valley giant offered a year ago already. All that for this ?
Canadians are right to ask what purpose the Online News Act serves now if neither of the two digital giants initially in Ottawa’s crosshairs are subject to the new law. The legislative approach is proving to be a failure on several fronts, including public relations. Perhaps not in Quebec, where most voters seem to support Ottawa’s attempts to come to the rescue of media which are struggling to survive while Google and Meta monopolize 80% of advertising revenues.
But the federal aid granted to Canadian media – the additional 129 million in tax credits on journalists’ salaries announced in the last economic statement – is strongly contested by the Conservatives, who accuse the Trudeau government of wanting to “buy” itself. favorable coverage. A petition launched by the Conservative Party of Canada accuses the Liberals of seeking “the only information you can see comes from their propaganda.” Conservatives, including Mme Thomas, say they fear that almost all of the 100 million that Google would pay to Canadian media will be distributed among the biggest names in the sector, including CBC/Radio-Canada, which would leave only crumbs for small local media, which risk disappearing. .
The Quebec Minister of Culture, Mathieu Lacombe, and the Bloc leader added their voices to those asking Ottawa to exclude the public broadcaster from sharing this pot of 100 million due to the annual subsidy of approximately 1.4 billion dollars that it already receives thanks to Canadian taxpayers. Mme St-Onge was sensitive to this request, without committing to completely deprive CBC/Radio-Canada of the royalties paid by Google.
However, she would be well advised to do so. The crown corporation has become the elephant in the room when it comes to the crisis facing private media in Canada. It would even be a greater threat to their survival than the American web giants. Mme St-Onge must finally take this into account.