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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Bell Media BCE-T job cuts that will affect hundreds of journalists are a “garbage decision” by a corporation that should know better.

At a health care-related news conference with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Mr. Trudeau denounced what he called an erosion of quality local journalism at a time when people need it more than ever, particularly given the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation.

“It’s eroding our very democracy,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I’m furious. This is a garbage decision.”

This week, Bell Media’s parent company, BCE Inc., announced it was cutting 9 per cent of its work force in a move that will affect 4,800 positions overall.

BCE and Bell Media did not immediately respond when asked to comment on the Prime Minister’s criticisms.

Asked about the layoffs, federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Thursday that if his party comes to power, it would repeal the Online Streaming Act to encourage more entrepreneurial media businesses can start up.

Canada’s broadcast regulator responded to a request for comment on Mr. Trudeau’s remarks by saying in a statement on Friday that it could not reply to “political commentary.”

Megan MacLean, a spokesperson for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, pointed to a statement issued this week that said the CRTC is concerned about job losses, and that companies are best placed to answer questions related to their business decisions.

Although less than 10 per cent of the total job cuts are at Bell Media specifically, the decision will lead to the end of multiple TV newscasts, programming cuts and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations. The radio stations being sold are in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Mr. Trudeau said corporate entities have bought up radio stations, and small community newspapers and then laid off journalists.

“And then when people don’t watch as much or engage as much, the corporate entity says, ‘Oh see. They are not profitable any more. We’re going to sell them off.’ ”

Mr. Trudeau pointed to Canada’s diversity of experiences and geography, saying that local voices are needed more than ever.

“Over the past years, corporate Canada – and there are many culprits on this – have abdicated their responsibility towards the communities that they have always made very good profits off of in various ways.”

The Prime Minister said his government has done what it can on the file, but that government can only do so much so “Canadians need to demand better, as we will be demanding better” of corporate leaders like Bell.

British Columbia Premier David Eby also denounced the cuts, calling them “catastrophic” and accusing Bell and other corporations of having purchased local media assets that are treasures to local communities.

“They bought them up like corporate vampires, they sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists. They have overseen the crapification of local news by laying off journalists, “ he told a news conference on Thursday.

“And now they say it’s no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations, it’s no longer economically viable to have investigative news, and they were allowed to do this.”

As the cuts were announced on Thursday, federal Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge told journalists on Parliament Hill that Canada’s broadcast regulator had the power to react because the company has obligations.

The minister was referring to what she described as a move by the CRTC to provide $40-million a year in regulatory relief and that Bell had promised to invest in news.

“They are backing away from that,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's furious over Bell Media layoffs, calling it a 'garbage decision.' Trudeau said on Feb. 9 the company should know better, while radio stations and small community newspapers are increasingly being bought up by large corporations that lay off journalists and change the quality of their offerings.

The Canadian Press

With a report from The Canadian Press

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