Prime Minister Justine Trudeau expressed his discontent with Bell on Friday after the media giant announced that it would be laying off thousands of employees. Bell responded by saying Trudeau didn’t come through on promises of financial relief.
“I’m pretty pissed off about what’s just happened,” Trudeau said during a press conference in Toronto, calling the move a “garbage decision.”
Bell announced that it would be laying off 4,800 people “at all levels of the company,” the largest layoff in the company in almost 30 years.
The announcement comes less than a year after the company sold or closed nine radio stations and laid off 6% of its total employees last spring.
Additionally, the company will be ending multiple television newscasts, among other programming cuts, after its parent company, BCE Inc., announced that it would be selling 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.
“This is the erosion not just of journalism, of quality local journalism at a time where people need it more than ever, given misinformation and disinformation … It’s eroding our very democracy, our abilities to tell stories to each other,” said Trudeau.
The money saved from the job cuts will allow for a larger payout in dividends to Bell’s shareholders.
“I’m furious. This was a garbage decision by a corporation that should know better,” said Trudeau.
“We need those local voices and over the past years, corporate Canada — and there are many culprits on this — have abdicated their responsibility toward the communities that they have always made very good profits off of in various ways.”
While Trudeau expressed his anger with Bell, its chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson laid the blame at the feet of Trudeau’s own government.
According to Malcolmson, the Trudeau government has taken too long to provide media companies with the financial relief it had promised.
“We’ve been advocating for reform for years. It’s not coming fast enough and when it does come, it doesn’t provide meaningful help,” Malcolmson told CBC News, connecting the layoffs to Bill C-11.
The bill made changes to the Broadcasting Act to require online streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube and Tiktok to produce and promote Canadian content.
However, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has yet to announce how much foreign streaming companies should have to compensate the Canadian government for the required content.
Malcolmson accused the CRTC of stalling on the details of a “crisis that is immediate.”
Federal Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge blames Bell for not upholding its promise to produce quality news at the local level.
“They’re still making billions of dollars. They’re still a very profitable company and they still have the capacity and the means to hold up their end of the bargain, which is to deliver news reports,” said St-Onge on Thursday.
Critics of Bill C-11 see it as a form of censorship, one that could easily be manipulated for political gain.
“We will move quickly in the early part of my term to overturn C-11 and other censorship and put Canadians in charge of what they see and say online,” said Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in response to the layoffs.
Poilievre claimed that the real reason for the layoffs was that Trudeau’s government has created a poor business environment, due to unnecessarily high taxes and policies that don’t promote competition.
“We have been stepping up over the past years, fighting for local journalism, fighting for investments that we can have, while all the while fending off attacks from Conservatives and others who say, ‘No, no, no, you’re trying to buy off journalists,’” said Trudeau in response to Poilievre.