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This article was published 15/1/2012 (2860 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Here's a good question to ask as the federal government begins to trim public service jobs. Why is the government still handing taxpayers' money to some of Canada's largest media corporations?
The little-known Canada Periodical Fund doles out about $71 million a year to publications ranging from Newfoundland Sportsman to the Canadian Coin News, but it's not the legion of obscure publications that is most objectionable, even though the spending produces little broad value.
It's the government subsidies for large, profitable publishing companies that are really questionable. The two biggest magazine owners in Canada are Transcontinental and Rogers Communications. Together, the two own half of the top 50 magazines in Canada. Rogers owns such familiar titles as Maclean's, Chatelaine and the fashion magazine Flare. Transcontinental publishes Canadian Living, Elle Canada and The Hockey News, among many others.
These are major corporations, and yet the government is still writing them support cheques as if these Canadian magazines were somehow endangered.
Maclean's, Canada's hard-hitting and skeptical news magazine, gets a $1.5-million annual handout from the government, as does Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Reader's Digest. That's the maximum amount allowed under the program, which gives 13 periodicals more than $1 million each.
The premise of the federal spending is "to ensure Canadians have diverse Canadian print magazines, non-daily newspapers and digital periodicals," Canadian Heritage's website says.
According to the industry magazine Masthead, Chatelaine took in $49 million in revenue in 2010. Why does it need taxpayers' dollars?
Canadian Living was just behind it at $48 million, followed by Maclean's and Reader's Digest.
The periodical fund distributes its money based on circulation, so the big, corporately owned magazines reap the greatest reward. Perhaps there is considerable cultural value in Canadian magazines offering home decorating tips and recipes, but it's not immediately discernible.
The central problem with this government program is that big magazines don't need government help and the little ones aren't worth it. A really generous observer could see public value in Atlantic Horse & Pony, Modern Dog or Hardware Merchandising, but this is Canadian culture writ extremely small.
The magazine program clearly helps prevent a Darwinian reduction in the astounding number of Canadian magazines. Thus we have Big Buck Magazine ($40,521) a quarterly periodical devoted to deer hunting. Subscribers who enjoy pictures of dead animals might also like Western Canadian Game Warden ($18,626), Ontario Monster Whitetails ($8,488) or The Canadian Trapper ($5,303).
Farm publications are soundly supported, including Canadian Ayrshire Review ($12,319), Canadian Cattlemen ($158,952) and Cowsmopolitan Dairy Magazine ($16,504). It includes no sex tips, by the way. The biggest beneficiary is The Western Producer, a weekly farm newspaper that takes in nearly $1.6 million.
Religious publications also do well, including Canadian Mennonite ($152,957), Mennonite Brethren Herald ($85,590), The United Church Observer ($191,592) and Presbyterian Record ($156,373).
Even the satirical magazine Frank collected $57,517 from the taxpayers, surely one of its best pranks.
Hundreds of weekly newspapers across the country also receive grants, including those owned by major media corporations. One could argue that there is some value in your local weekly newspaper, although sustaining it with federal tax dollars is still a stretch.
When the federal government changed the funding rules in 2009, some publications complained because the criterion of 5,000 annual sales was deemed too onerous.
Even that rule is reduced by half for aboriginal, official language minority, ethno-cultural and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazines.
Prior to the Conservative changes, there were separate funds to support editorial content and to offset mailing costs. The Conservatives brought the two together and limited the maximum contribution. Maclean's, for example, used to get nearly $3 million a year from taxpayers.
As generous as it is, the government program is no guarantee of success for a Canadian magazine. The long-standing Harrowsmith Country Life ceased publication last summer, but not before sucking $330,130 from the taxpayers in 2010 alone.
The taxpayers might not get much value from the Canada Periodical Fund, but the Conservative government is making the most of it. In the Canadian way, the magazine and weekly newspaper grants have been turned into pork. Local MPs announce these silly little grants, using standard language about how the giveaway contributes to the economy and the diversity of Canadian content.
That's why one sees a press released headed "Government of Canada invests in Motorcycle Mojo Magazine." Tough to say what dividends the $20,400 investment will bring.
Support for Canada's cultural industries is a touchy subject and it's difficult for Conservatives to reduce it without being described as neanderthals, but how can the government justify it? Big corporations don't need the help and taxpayers shouldn't have to fund industry journals, religious publications or obscure hobby magazines.
No one from Heritage Minister James Moore's office was willing to undertake a defence of the publications fund Monday. Small wonder.
Randall Denley is a member of the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board.