British Columbia

B.C. premier calls out 'corporate vampires' after BCE announces layoffs, sale of radio stations

The B.C. premier went on a 2½-minute tirade Thursday morning as he called out the parent company of Bell Media, which had earlier announced thousands of layoffs and the sale of dozens of local radio stations in communities across Canada.

Around 4,800 jobs to go at Bell Media's parent company, radio stations in smaller communities up for sale

David Eby is shown in profile from the shoulders up, looking concerned.
B.C. Premier David Eby pictured on Monday. Eby said Thursday that BCE Inc. and its subsidiary Bell Media should find ways to keep radio stations open and journalists working to provide essential information to residents across the province. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The premier of British Columbia went on a 2½-minute tirade Thursday morning as he called out the parent company of Bell Media, which had earlier announced thousands of layoffs and the sale of dozens of local radio stations in communities across Canada.

In its largest round of job cuts in nearly 30 years, BCE Inc. said it was cutting nine per cent of its workforce, equating to 4,800 jobs, and selling 45 of its 103 regional radio stations, 21 of them in B.C.

Bell Media said separately it would be ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts.

"On behalf of all British Columbians that have watched their local news station slowly turn to garbage by these companies, who now say, unsurprisingly, that there is not a lot of support for them, I just want to say: shame on you," Premier David Eby said at an unrelated news conference in Coquitlam, B.C.

The radio stations up for sale in B.C. are mostly in smaller communities such as Dawson Creek, Nelson and Prince Rupert.

WATCH | Premier rails against loss of local news as a result of BCE cuts:

'Shame on you': B.C. premier slams corporation behind Bell media job cuts

4 months ago
Duration 2:25
David Eby called on the federal government to intervene over an announcement by BCE Inc. to cut 4,800 jobs and sell off 45 radio stations, describing the company and others like it as "corporate vampires" that have "overseen the encrapification of local news."

BCE said it is in the midst of a "digital transformation" for both entertainment and news, but whether or not prioritizing digital growth is viable for the company has yet to be determined.

Eby was having none of that reasoning, saying the corporation is profitable and, as part of its corporate social responsibility, should be able to find ways to continue to provide news and information across Canada.

"Bell and other corporations like Bell have overseen the assembly of local media assets that are treasures to local communities," he said. "They bought them up, like corporate vampires, sucked the life out of them, laid off journalists."

Eby called on Ottawa to intervene, arguing companies like BCE were given the green light to acquire television and radio stations from federal regulators.

  • How do you feel about the Bell Media cuts? Will it change how you get your news? Send an email to ask@cbc.ca

At a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, federal Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said she was "extremely" disappointed in BCE's decision, but did not immediately announce any recourse.

"In the past decade, when acquisitions were allowed for those big companies to acquire television stations or radio stations, it came with the promise that they would deliver on news content. And today, they are backing [away] from that promise," she said.

BCE blamed the federal government for taking too long to provide relief for media companies, as well as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for being too slow to react to the changing media landscape.

'Reprehensible ... appalling'

Eby said the latest cuts would cause B.C. to suffer due to a lack of information — especially during times of crisis, such as annual wildlife and flooding events that are growing increasingly severe due to climate change.

"I find it reprehensible. I think it's appalling, and Bell and other companies like Bell that have done this need to be held accountable for the information atmosphere that we find ourselves in today," he said.


 

No plans for closures, layoffs in B.C. radio stations: buyer

On Thursday, Vista Radio, which owns dozens of radio stations in three provinces and the Northwest Territories, announced plans to purchase the 21 B.C. radio stations being put up for sale, including an additional 27 regional repeater transmitters in the province.

"We're very much focused on local radio. I think that is what has made us successful," said Vista Radio president Bryan Edwards, which is owned by private equity firm Westerkirk Capital Inc.

Edwards said there are no plans for closures or layoffs at the B.C. stations — which have about 80 employees total — some of which he believes are understaffed.

Vista bought its first radio station in 2004 in Duncan, B.C., and if its plan to acquire the Bell stations is approved by the CRTC, it would have more than 70 stations.

"Done properly, a local radio station is frankly a mirror of the community and that is what we position ourselves to be," said Edwards.

He said the acquisitions might take up to a year to complete, but Vista planned on expanding hiring after welcoming Bell Media employees into the fold.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chad Pawson is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. Please contact him at chad.pawson@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press and Joel Ballard