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The 24 policies approved by delegates to the Liberal convention in Ottawa last week contained proposals that were worthy and practical, such as improving the quality of home care for the elderly, and worthy but impractical, such as moving toward a national guaranteed basic income. But one resolution, passed without debate, was nothing short of dreadful and dangerous.

The Liberal Party of Canada – which enshrined freedom of expression and of the press into the Constitution four decades ago – now favours exploring options “to hold on-line information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms and to limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced.”

Such a policy would corrode responsible investigative journalism.

The resolution could be dismissed as poorly thought out Liberal posturing, especially after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told journalists that his government had no intention of acting on the party’s policy.

This Liberal government is already exerting greater control over what people see and read online. And the resolution reflects how the Liberal base, at least, thinks that control should be increased.

The resolution comes in the wake of the Online Streaming Act, a new law that requires streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify to increase their level of Canadian content, and which allows the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to require more Canadian content on social media such as YouTube.

Another piece of legislation, Bill C-18, would compel tech companies such as Google and Facebook to compensate Canadian publishers for content that appears on their platforms. The bill would further expand the swollen powers of the CRTC to referee negotiations between search engines or streaming services and print news providers, a field currently outside its orbit.

As currently structured, Bill C-18 creates an opening for the unprecedented step of CRTC oversight of the newspaper industry, well beyond that body’s expertise. The Liberals profess otherwise, but they or a successor government might take a different interpretation of the act in future.

And under C-18, some sort of government-sponsored process would displace freely negotiated private contracts between news organizations and online platforms. (The Globe has negotiated such contracts with Google, Facebook and Apple.) At a minimum, that process should be optional; ideally, the Liberals would let private enterprise remain just that.

These two bills follow on previous legislation and regulations aimed at funding media organizations, the most prominent being the Journalism Labour Tax Credit, which helps to defray newspaper labour costs. (The Globe receives some support through that credit, amounting to 1 per cent of this organization’s expenses.)

The preamble to the Liberal’s convention resolution was broadly correct in asserting: “to reduce costs, mainstream media no longer employs as many reporters with extensive knowledge of particular subject areas, and fills content with opinion programming rather than news, and … the result has devalued mainstream media as a source of news and information.”

But there are notable exceptions. Organizations whose owners preserved the integrity of their newsrooms even during the leanest years, and who continued to focus on delivering strong coverage, have been able to substitute digital subscription revenue for lost advertising revenue, or found other means to survive and thrive.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal in the United States, Financial Times and Guardian in Great Britain and The Globe and Mail in Canada are doing fine. The Globe, for instance, gets 68 per cent of its revenue from people paying for content.

The intent of the Liberal Party and government to exert greater control over what Canadians read and watch is already a matter of legislative record. The Prime Minister has disavowed his party’s anti-press resolution, but the Liberal Party has already made its statement, plainly for all to see.

In the end, the dollars that come from readers and advertisers – not handouts from government held in the palm of a regulator – are the best guarantee of a vital and independent press.

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