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Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, speaks onstage at Times Center Hall on Sept. 26, 2016 in New York City.Daniel Zuchnik

Google Canada is standing by its decision to ban paid political ads during the 2019 federal election campaign, in spite of pressure from the Democratic Institutions Minister to reconsider.

But it will launch a dedicated YouTube channel to highlight “authoritative” news coverage of the campaign. Google says it will make no attempt to balance the stories according to volume of coverage for each party or attempt to measure the perceived political leanings of news sources.

“We have expressly avoided looking to determine the ideological nature of a specific piece of content or the ideological perspectives of our users. Our objective is to give people a diverse set of perspectives, but certainly not to try to tune for ideology,” Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, said in an interview. “We’re very, very careful about that and I think, for very good reason, we’re reluctant to get into that notion of trying to quote ‘balance’ perspectives between all sides on issues where that might not be relevant or valid in doing so.”

Global internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are under pressure from governments worldwide to step up their efforts to fight foreign interference and improve transparency in light of evidence the Russian government made extensive use of social media to secretly promote discord and political polarization during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Canadian government has warned that foreign interference is likely to occur in this year’s federal election. Changes to the Elections Act passed in December include measures to ban foreign funding of political advertising. The updated law also requires large websites to create a registry of all paid political ads that appear on its platforms.

Google Canada first announced in March that it was banning political advertising on its platforms ahead of the election because it said it would be too challenging to comply with the new ad-transparency rules. The company said it will not sell any political advertising either directly or on behalf of partner websites.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould challenged Google’s decision, given that the company already produces political ad registries in the United States and the European Union.

However, Google officials confirmed the company’s stand on Thursday.

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“It just wasn’t feasible for us,” said Jason Kee, Google Canada’s public policy and government relations counsel. “A number of other online platforms and publishers are wrestling with the same challenge and coming to the same conclusion.”

Google Canada’s main concerns are that the new Canadian law is much broader in that it requires disclosure of “issue” based ads that could be run by third parties in support of policies that may be shared with a specific political party.

The company has also noted that the U.S. system includes a greater role for the Federal Election Commission in registering advertisers, while the new Canadian model places more responsibility on platforms. Google Canada has also said complying with the Canadian law would require major technical changes to the company’s ad-selling process and that there isn’t enough time for that to happen before the law’s provisions take effect in late June.

Political parties and interest groups can still post ads on their own YouTube channels and share them on social media, but Google will not accept payment to place political ads on any websites.

Google Canada announced Thursday that its Google News Initiative will contribute $1-million to the Canadian Journalism Foundation to create a national news-literacy campaign. The program is an expansion of an existing project that was aimed at school-age children. The goal is to help Canadians identify authoritative sources of news and information and to better understand the difference between news stories and opinion pieces when consuming news online.

The Canadian Journalism Foundation is a charitable organization that promotes excellence in Canadian journalism. (The Globe and Mail’s editor-in-chief David Walmsley is chair of the CJF board.)

Google is also planning to support the livestreaming of candidate debates on its YouTube platform.

Ms. Gould, the Democratic Institutions Minister, praised the company’s support for news literacy but said large platforms have much more to do. She also expressed disappointment that the company will not produce an ad registry in Canada.

“I don’t think it’s our job in Canada to adapt ourselves to them and the way that they do things in the United States," she said.

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