The federal and Quebec governments are suspending all advertising on Meta – including Facebook and Instagram – over the company’s plans to block Canadian news on its platforms in response to Ottawa’s Online News Act.
Within hours on Wednesday, Quebec-based media organizations – Quebecor Inc. and Cogeco – also said they were ceasing advertising with Meta for the same reasons, as did the Bloc Québécois and the city of Montreal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while Google continues to talk with the government about how the new law might be implemented, Facebook is refusing to negotiate and is moving ahead with plans to block Canadian news.
“That’s just bullying, and it’s undermining our democracy,” he told reporters in Montérégie, Que. “We’re continuing constructive conversations with Google. Unfortunately, Facebook has just refused to recognize any sort of responsibility it might have in contributing to democracies in general that have contributed to its success as a company.”
The Liberal Party said Wednesday that it plans to keep advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Mr. Trudeau left open the possibility of a change when asked why the Liberal government’s policy was not aligned with that of the Liberal Party.
Quebec Premier François Legault issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the provincial government has suspended all advertising on Facebook because of the company’s plan to block Canadian news.
“No company is above the law,” he said.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement on Twitter that the municipal government will do the same, “in solidarity” with media organizations.
Parliament approved the law, known as Bill C-18, last month and the measures are scheduled to take effect within six months after the drafting of regulatory details. The Bloc Québécois and NDP supported the bill, while Conservative MPs were opposed. The legislation outlines a framework in which large platform companies – specifically Google and Meta – will be required to reach compensation agreements with publishers for the use of news on their sites.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced the government’s advertising decision earlier in the day Wednesday at a news conference in Ottawa with Bloc heritage critic Martin Champoux and NDP heritage critic Peter Julian. The opposition MPs both said they support the final version of the bill, which included many amendments that were made during the committee review process.
Google and Meta have said the bill as approved is unworkable. Google announced on June 29 that it intends to block Canadian news on its platform, but is continuing to participate in the regulatory process.
Meta had previously said it will block access to Canadian news and the minister said the company has not expressed interest in finding a solution through regulations.
Mr. Rodriguez said the federal government currently spends about $10-million a year in advertising on Meta platforms. The government has not said how much money Google and Meta would be expected to contribute to Canadian publishers. A cost estimate by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the law could raise around $329.2-million per year from digital platforms to news businesses.
While Mr. Rodriguez spoke positively of decisions by companies to also stop advertising on Meta, he declined to say whether the Liberal Party would follow the government’s move.
Advertising on Facebook is a key element of modern political campaigns, in part because parties can narrowly target messages to specific demographics.
Parker Lund, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party, told The Globe Wednesday that the party is not changing its policy.
“We will continue to advertise on Meta platforms,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau, who is both Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, was asked several times by reporters to comment on the party’s position. He said many companies have taken “an important step” over the past 24 hours to suspend advertising with Meta.
“Quite frankly, the federal government could not in good conscience continue to spend taxpayer dollars buying services from a company that has demonstrated that it doesn’t respect Canadian democracy and the pillars of democracy,” he said. “As for other organizations, like political parties and others, I’m sure there’ll be more decisions taken in the coming days.”
The Bloc said in a statement Wednesday that it has suspended all party advertising with Meta.
NDP spokesperson Eric Demers said the party is not stopping ads with Meta “at the moment,” but is monitoring the situation.
Meta is standing by its position, according to a statement provided Wednesday afternoon by company spokesperson Lisa Laventure.
“As we have repeatedly shared, the Online News Act is flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them and the value we provide news publishers,” said the statement, which added that it is publishers themselves who actively choose to post their journalism on Facebook and Instagram.
“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.”
Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office, said the province is not suspending its advertising with Meta.
“Ontario has no plan to change its advertising policy and will continue to support Canadian media through government advertising campaigns,” she said.
Conservative heritage critic Rachael Thomas said in a statement that the Prime Minister’s bill amounts to online censorship.
“His laws take away choice and put it in the hands of big powerful bureaucracy to control the internet and limit who can have a voice. Trudeau’s internet censorship is hurting small, local and independent media outlets while taking the side of big corporate and state-funded media like the CBC,” she said in a statement.
The Online News Act is inspired by Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code, which took effect in March, 2021. Australian political leaders faced intense lobbying from platforms, including direct appears from Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., before the company was renamed Meta. Facebook briefly blocked Australian news but ultimately agreed to strike deals with Australian publishers, as did Google.
An April, 2023, report by The Australia Institute found that as of November, 2022, Google had reached 22 commercial agreements representing 183 media mastheads in Australia, and Meta had reached agreements with 13 news businesses.
The debate in Canada is being closely watched around the world, as other countries are considering similar legislation.
Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who introduced and co-sponsors the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, told The Globe this week that political leaders must stand firm in response to pressure tactics such as threats to block links to Canadian news stories.
An international coalition of groups representing news organizations issued a statement Wednesday condemning Google and Meta’s latest response.
“In Canada, the law – the Online News Act – is new, but Google and Meta’s tactics are old,” the statement said. “We call on both companies to act like socially responsible corporate citizens, stand down and accept that the world is changing, and recognize that the law has been passed through the democratic process and the platforms can no longer prosper by abusing their dominance in the market at the cost of everyone else.”
With a report from Laura Stone