Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 15, 1999
Western bishops oppose postal ruling
Copps wants answers on ruling for Catholic newspapers
By GLEN ARGAN
and ANH HOANG
A federal government ruling on postal rates paid by Canada's weekly Catholic newspapers could have "drastic consequences," say the Western bishops.
The bishops, meeting in Edmonton March 5-7, wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien expressing "concern and shock at the recent decision of Heritage Canada to discontinue postal subsidies for Catholic papers under the Publications Assistance Program."
Heritage Canada has told four Canadian Catholic weekly newspapers that they are ineligible for a postal subsidy because they do not have 80 per cent "original Canadian content."
The ruling means that foreign content and news articles pooled among the newspapers through Canadian Catholic News service can make up no more than 20 per cent of the newspapers.
The newspapers affected by the ruling so far are The Catholic Register of Toronto, The B.C. Catholic of Vancouver, the Prairie Messenger of Muenster, Sask., and the New Freeman of Saint John, N.B.
If the papers do not meet the regulation, their subsidies will be cut off as of Aug. 31. They have until April 8 to appeal the ruling.
For The Register, the largest paper of the four, that would mean an extra expense of $150,000. However, the more likely result would be the demise of news sharing among the newspapers.
The WCR, the only other English-language weekly Catholic paper, has received no word from Heritage Canada on its application. Nor has Catholic New Times, a Toronto-based bi-weekly.
Bishop Blaise Morand of Prince Albert, Sask., president of the Western bishops conference, said all 22 bishops attending the Edmonton meeting individually signed the letter to Chrétien.
"It was easy to get bishops to agree on sending the letter," Morand told the WCR March 7. "The bishops were very concerned and very supportive."
The bishops were also encouraged to write individual letters to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps in support of the Catholic newspapers' applications, he said.
In their letter, the bishops urged Chrétien to have Copps reconsider the decision.
They said the provision for 80 per cent original Canadian content "seems excessively high."
"If the decision is allowed to stand, the 'stories' that contribute significantly to a vital part of our Canadian culture will no longer be told, and certainly they will not be told to a wider audience across Canada.
"We appreciate the fact that each regional Catholic paper can enrich its readers with stories from other areas of our country."
Meanwhile, Copps has asked staff in the Publications Assistance Program office to prepare a report on why the Catholic publications were denied the postal subsidies.
"(Copps) wants a report of what's happening . . . why these publications are not getting the subsidies," said Catherine Gagnaire, a communications assistant.
Gagnaire said the minister will review the report and have more to say on the situation within the next three weeks.
Senator Douglas Roche, founding editor of the WCR, told the Senate March 9 the Canadian Heritage ruling is an "unfathomable and cruel blow to religious journalism."
"This ruling threatens to put the Canadian Catholic press and religious press of other denominations out of business at the very time the government, through Bill C-55, is trying to protect Canadian publications," Roche said.
He made his comments in the form of a question to Senator Al Graham, the government leader in the Senate. Graham said he would raise Roche's concerns with "those who are responsible for this matter."