A bill introducing the initiative, which aims to “support Canadian journalism” struggling in the digital age, is expected to pass the Canadian Parliament in the next few months, ahead of the general election in October.
"I think Trudeau's timing has been brilliant. He's made it an election issue for journalists. The implication is 'Help me get back in and we'll give you a big pile of cash — allow me to be defeated and you'll be paying your own bills'," Pierre Poilievre, a Conservative MP, told The Sunday Telegraph.
The plan suggests that the division of funds will be decided by an independent panel of members from the "news and journalism community" appointed by the government.
“Trudeau wants to define what constitutes acceptable journalism, and then give money to those who meet that definition. Over time it will create a highly dependent group of liberal-minded journalists with a vested interest to keep the Liberals in power. Everyone who wants to pay their mortgage will have to be careful what they write,” Poilievre added.
The initiative is viewed as controversial in the Canadian media as well. Paul Godfrey, chief executive of Postmedia, which publishes Canada's National Post, the Vancouver Sun, and the Montreal Gazette, has called it a "turning point in the plight of newspapers" and suggested journalists should be "doing victory laps.” However, Andrew Coyne, a National Post columnist, has warned that the bill will "irrevocably politicise the press" and suggested that in the end the media could become copies of the government-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters also said in a letter to the government that it was "hugely disappointed" that they were not included in the initiative despite the decline in revenues due to the domination of internet content.
The funding is expected to be spread over five years. Around $360 million of it will be in the form of a tax credit publishers can claim that is linked to journalists’ salaries, up to a maximum of $13,750 a year for each employee in a newsroom. Another tax credit will be linked to the number of subscribers to newspapers' websites, and non-profit media groups will be able to claim charitable status.
Raynell Andreychuk, the Conservative chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a hearing this week: "Selection committees appointed by the government [means] we’re intruding on the freedom of the press. It may not be our intention, it’s the survival of newspapers. [But] to me it’s very dangerous ground."