Addition of Unifor to controversial media panel comes under fire in question period

Opposition leader Andrew Scheer accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of "stacking the deck" by including Unifor on the media bailout panel

A controversial Liberal plan to name a panel to determine which journalism organizations can access new tax credits is again under fire.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer kicked off the first question period of the final four-week stretch of parliamentary business by criticizing the government’s decision to appoint Unifor, a union representing thousands of media workers, to a panel of journalists it is setting up.

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The panel is being tasked with recommending criteria to determine which outlets should be eligible to apply for tax credits to offset the cost of hiring staff and that could give consumers an incentive to buy subscriptions by making them tax-deductible.

But Unifor has a history of behaviour that has been called partisan, including tweeting in November 2018 that its national executive board was “Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare” and dubbing itself “the resistance” to him.

Scheer said that calls into question its ability to act impartially.

“Unifor is a highly partisan group with highly aggressive and partisan goals,” he said. “They have made it clear their objective is to help the Liberals win the next election, and yet the prime minister has decided to appoint this group to the panel.”

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez responded by arguing the criticism is a “dangerous game.”

“The Conservatives think that our journalists can be bought,” he said.

“We do not agree with that. We trust professional journalism and we are there to support it.”

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However, Rodriguez did not address the key issue behind the question, which was whether partisan groups should be involved in helping to design the criteria by which select media organizations will be eligible for tax support measures worth roughly half a billion dollars.

Last week, Rodriguez announced the panel will consist of representatives from eight organizations: News Media Canada, the Association de la presse francophone, the Quebec Community Newspaper Association, the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Unifor and the Fédération nationale des communications.

The addition of Unifor has raised challenges not only from politicians but also from journalists themselves.

Carol Off, host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens, pressed Rodriguez in an interview last week about why he did not seem to believe having a union that is publicly partisan on the panel could hurt its credibility and damage any perception of its work as unbiased.

Rodriguez repeatedly refused to provide a clear answer, at one point accusing Off of voicing Scheer’s opinion when she referenced the tweet by Unifor in which it called itself “the resistance.”

Sean Craig, a contributing editor with the technology news site The Logic and a former reporter covering the media, tweeted that the decision to include Unifor on the panel was “just disastrous for public trust in the media.”

However, the national president of Unifor has called the criticism by Scheer and the Conservatives “a tactic ripped straight out of the playbook.”

Unifor represents roughly 12,000 workers in the Canadian news industry.

Some, but not all, reporters with Global News are among them.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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