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David Eby, Premier of British Columbia, speaks to media at the Council of the Federation Canadian premiers meeting at The Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on July 11.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

British Columbia has joined the federal government and Quebec – and dozens of Canadian companies, cities and institutions – and suspended advertising on Facebook over the tech giant’s decision to block Canadian news in response to the federal online news act.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Meta’s decision to block news from Canadians was “totally unacceptable” and the province was pulling all ads, except safety and health bulletins, from the tech giant’s Facebook and Instagram platforms. British Columbia’s government spent $1,352,000 last year on advertising on Meta, with another $138,000 so far this financial year.

The move follows Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s announcement last week that the federal government was pulling advertising from Meta platforms. Last year, Ottawa spent $11.4-million on advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

B.C. will now only publish ads related to public emergencies or public-health concerns on Facebook and Instagram, including ads about preventing and being prepared for wildfires.

Toronto Star owner pausing ads on Facebook, Instagram over Meta’s vows to block news

Mr. Eby said “many British Columbians now rely on social media to get their news. Meta’s decision to cut off that access is totally unacceptable.”

“To send a strong message to Meta that journalism is a vital public service and access to news should never be blocked, our government has decided to stop all advertising on Facebook and Instagram – with a limited exception for critical health and safety information,” the Premier added.

More than 30 advertisers, including the Quebec government, Hydro-Québec, Loto-Québec, Bell Media, Quebec-based media organizations Cogeco and Quebecor as well as the cities of Quebec and Montreal, have now suspended ads on Meta platforms.

Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which represents the news industry, predicted the boycott would escalate and said Meta could lose more from advertising in Canada than the extra it would have to pay publishers if it were subject to the online news act.

The online news act would make Meta and Google negotiate more deals to pay news outlets in Canada for posting or linking to their work.

“We are going to reach a tipping point where the loss of revenue from a large scale advertising boycott is going to cost Meta much more than they would actually have to pay news businesses for the use of our content under the Online News Act. Meta has more than four billion reasons – their Canadian revenue – not to ‘unfriend’ a lucrative G7 market like Canada,” Mr. Deegan said.

“Institutional investors, like CPP Investments and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan should be asking the CEOs of our financial institutions, telcos, retailers, why they haven’t joined Quebecor, Cogeco, Bell Media, and Hydro Quebec in halting advertising with Meta.”

Mr. Rodriguez expressed thanks to those who had followed Ottawa’s example and decided to suspend ads from Meta.

“The list is getting longer and it’s an important message we’re sending to the tech giants. I’d like to thank Quebec, British Columbia, the many cities, news organizations, and businesses who have followed our lead. We’ll see if more join us,” the minister told The Globe and Mail. “It’s up to them to decide for themselves. Canada is standing up to Facebook for the right reasons. A free and independent press is fundamental to our democracy.”

He added: “How much money is Facebook going to spend modifying their platforms at the expense of their users, and losing ad revenue, instead of just paying their fair share?”

Ottawa’s bid to bring Facebook onside on Bill C-18 not enough to stop it blocking news

The online news act, also known as Bill C-18, received royal assent last month. It was designed to support the Canadian news industry, which has seen its advertising migrate to the Big Tech platforms. Google has said it will too block searches for news in Canada in response to the bill. But it is continuing to hold talks with the government.

B.C. said it will continue advertising on Google as the tech giant’s negotiations continue.

Last week Unifor, the country’s biggest private sector union, suspended its Facebook ads and called for all provincial and municipal governments to follow Quebec and the federal government’s lead and suspend Meta ads.

Unifor’s national president Lana Payne called on governments and “major Facebook ad buyers to band together in support of Canadian journalism and give local news a fighting chance in this country.”

Andrew Addison, spokesman for the Canadian Media Producers’ Association, said it was suspending advertising on Facebook “as a point of principle.”

“The CMPA strongly supports the federal government, along with the growing number of companies that have pulled advertisements from Meta platforms, in response to their decision to block Canadians’ access to domestic news sites,” he said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Facebook said it was moving ahead with plans to withdraw access to Canadian news on its platforms in this country in response to Bill C-18. A day earlier, Mr. Rodriguez had said the government was drafting regulations on how the act would apply to tech giants, including putting a cap on how much they would have to inject into the news industry.

“Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not equipped to make changes to the fundamental features of the legislation that have always been problematic, and so we plan to comply by ending news availability in Canada in the coming weeks,” said Lisa Laventure, Meta’s spokesperson in Canada.

Writers’ Union of Canada CEO John Degen, said the “bully tactics of the big tech giants are deplorable.”

“All Canada is asking is what Australia and others have done. If you are going to play in our market you should be paying your suppliers,” he said.

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