Ontario needs to begin talks with the federal government to find a way to preserve the province's community newspapers after a wave of closings was announced earlier this week, the leader of the opposition New Democrats says.
Ontario's local-news market was upended on Monday when Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. announced a deal to exchange 41 newspapers; the two companies will close the majority of them, eliminating 291 full-time and part-time jobs. Most of the newspapers involved in the deal serve small cities and towns across Ontario. The closings will leave three Ontario cities without a daily newspaper and swaths of the province with fewer weekly community papers.
"It's a huge concern for Ontarians. It's a big loss for communities. Those community papers, those dailies in lots of cases, were the glue that held communities together," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said on Wednesday.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's government needs to call for talks with the federal government to ensure that something is done to maintain "robust public debate" though community newspapers, Ms. Horwath said. Ontario and the federal government "need to be involved at the table when it comes to discussions in terms of how that continues to happen," she said.
While she said she didn't have a solution for preserving local newspapers that are struggling financially, Ms. Horwarth offered to join any discussions.
On Tuesday, federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly defended Ottawa's decision not to offer additional funding for news outlets as part of its new cultural policy. Ms. Joly said the newspaper closings were "cynical business decisions" and defended the government's reliance on the Canada Periodical Fund to sustain community media outlets. The fund provides $75-million annually to magazines and non-daily newspapers.
Deb Matthews, Ontario's Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, said in a statement that her office was aware that it was a "challenging time" for the entire newspaper industry owing to shifting habits and new technology. "We know the vital role that community newspapers play across Ontario. They are an important pillar of our democracy, they provide distinct, local perspectives and they give every one of our communities a voice," she said.
While she promised help for workers, Ms. Matthews would not respond to questions about whether the Ontario government has a plan to support the province's community media organizations or whether she would answer Ms. Horwath's call to start talks with the federal government.
Speaking with the CBC's morning radio show in London, Ont., after the closings were announced, Postmedia chief executive Paul Godfrey warned that more cuts could come. "If print revenue declines, there's nothing that's safe," he said.
Near London, the 160-year-old St. Marys Journal Argus will close. Mr. Godfrey said larger newspapers could close as Postmedia and other newspaper chains continue to consolidate local media and cut publications.
The area around Barrie, with a population of nearly 200,000, will lose its daily paper. Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who represents a Barrie-area riding, said he was sad to see the closing of his local newspaper.