Quebec forks out $5M in aid as major newspaper chain seeks bankruptcy protection

Le Groupe Capitales Médias owns daily newspapers in some of Quebec's largest markets, including Quebec City's Le Soleil, Le Droit of Gatineau-Ottawa and Trois-Rivières's Le Nouvelliste.

Groupe Capitales Médias publishes daily newspapers in some of the province's biggest markets

The Groupe Capitales Médias, which owns the newspapers pictured above, is going to file for bankruptcy protection under the Creditors Arrangement Act. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government says it will invest $5 million in a French-language newspaper chain that sought bankruptcy protection Monday.

Le Groupe Capitales Médias owns daily newspapers in some of Quebec's largest markets, including Quebec City's Le Soleil, Le Droit of Gatineau-Ottawa and Trois-Rivières's Le Nouvelliste.

The newspaper chain was founded by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon. Its financial difficulties had been widely known for several weeks.

In announcing the financial aid, the provincial government stressed the important role the newspapers play in Quebec society. 

"It's impossible to envision the closure of six newspapers," said Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon.

Martin Cauchon, owner of the Groupe Capitales Media, and Claude Gagnon, president and director general, shake hands in 2015 after buying the six papers that made up the bulk of their chain. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Fitzgibbon also said Cauchon had resigned as CEO of the newspaper chain and a restructuring process will begin shortly.

News of Groupe Capitales's intention to file for bankruptcy protection prompted an emergency meeting of the provincial cabinet on Monday.

Premier François Legault said on Twitter that the bail-out will buy some time for the newspaper chain to find new owners, and for the government to put in place a general media assistance program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that it's necessary for media to have the capacity and resources to ask important questions and report the truth. 

"We will always be there to see how we can help while respecting, of course, the essential independence of the media," Trudeau said Monday in Quebec City. 

Last year, the federal government announced nearly $600 million in financial aid for print media over five years, as well as tax credits for hiring journalists for local coverage. 

Quebecor expresses interest 

Legault had promised over the weekend, amid reports of the chain's impending insolvency, that his government would "do everything" to ensure the survival of the papers. 

He previously said the government would be open to emergency one-time help until a general media assistance program is put in place. Groupe Capitales received a $10-million loan from the Quebec government in 2017.

The company also owns La Tribune in Sherbrooke, La Voix de l'Est in Granby, Le Quotidien and Progrès week-end in Saguenay.

Quebecor Inc., which publishes the Journal de Québec, Le Journal de Montréal as well as the TVA television group, has expressed interest in the newspapers but the Liberal opposition is worried about media concentration.

The president and CEO of Quebecor is Pierre Karl Péladeau, former leader of the Parti Québécois.

There was also a report that Montreal newspaper Le Devoir was examining the possibility of joining forces with Le Soleil.

"We are studying all the options with our partners, but it is premature to make assumptions at this stage," Le Devoir's editor-in-chief, Brian Myles, said in a statement.

With files from The Canadian Press, La Presse Canadienne and Radio-Canada


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