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Report on Business Bill to make La Presse a not-for-profit passes after Quebec invokes closure

The Quebec government has rammed through legislation aimed at allowing Montreal-based La Presse news group to adopt a not-for-profit structure.

Seventy-six members voted in favour of the bill Thursday evening against 24 who opposed it. Liberal members were joined by the caucuses of the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Quebec solidaire, while the Parti Quebecois and independent member Martine Ouellet voted against it.

Government House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier said the government was justified in doing so because of the refusal by Ouellet to support the legislation.

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Before closure was invoked, the bill had required the unanimous consent of all members of the legislature to be voted on because it was tabled late in the session.

Premier Philippe Couillard said it was urgent to pass the bill to “protect the pension funds” of the retirees of La Presse.

The structural change announced last month needed the Quebec government to repeal a provision of an act adopted in 1967 regarding La Presse’s ownership.

Power Corporation of Canada, whose subsidiary Square Victoria Communications Group owns the 130-year-old publication, will grant $50 million to the not-for-profit venture.

Power Corp. would no longer own the media company or have any ties with the new structure.

Traditional media in the country are grappling with the loss of advertising revenue, resulting in mass layoffs, publication closures and a shift to fewer print editions and more online publications.

Nearly a year ago, La Presse announced it would end its print edition in 2017 and publish only on its website and tablet edition.

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The organization urged the federal government to financially support the written press through philanthropic models and direct assistance when it made its announcement.

Ottawa indicated it would do so in its last budget, tabled in February.

The Liberal government proposed $50 million over five years to support independent, non-governmental organizations that will spur on local journalism in under-served communities.

The budget also said the government will spend the next year exploring models that would allow private giving or philanthropic support for non-profit journalism and local news.

La Presse president Pierre-Elliott Levasseur said last month the decision to become a not-for-profit entity had to be made.

“I don’t think there’s a person in Quebec or in the rest of Canada who’s going to give money to La Presse in the form of a donation knowing that Power Corp. is the owner,” he said last month.

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“So I think what we’re doing is opening the door to donations from large companies, from large donors, as well as the average citizen who understands the role La Presse plays in society.”

Editor’s Note: La Presse’s parent company holds an investment in The Canadian Press, which distributed this story, as part of a joint agreement with Torstar and a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail.

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