Morneau's update bolsters struggling media with $600M in tax measures

The federal government is stepping in to help the struggling Canadian media industry with new tax credits and incentives valued at nearly $600 million over the next five years.

A temporary tax credit will be created for subscribers to digital news media sites

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals' investments will protect the vital role independent news media have in Canadian democracy. (CBC)

The federal government is stepping in to help the struggling Canadian media industry with new tax credits and incentives valued at nearly $600 million over the next five years.

"To protect the vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities, we will be introducing measures to help support journalism in Canada," Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in his speech to the House of Commons.

The full details of the program won't be available until the next federal budget, after the government receives advice from an independent panel from the journalism community.

The goal is for the program to be funded by the government but have no role for politicians to decide what constitutes a media outlet or who would be eligible. That way, the government hopes to avoid the appearance of conflict between a free press and government influence.

The program will likely cost the federal treasury about $45 million in 2019-20, rising to $165 million in 2023-24.

It's expected most of the expense will be for a new tax credit for media organizations to support the labour costs of producing original news content, but finance officials said specific amounts won't be available until eligibility details have been decided.

Conservatives critical 

Another temporary tax credit will be created for subscribers to digital news media sites.

Plus, the government will allow non-profit media organizations to apply for charitable status, enabling them to seek donations for which they could issue tax receipts. Non-profit media with such status would also be eligible to receive funding from other registered charities.

The Conservatives have already been critical of the Liberals for doing anything for the media industry, accusing them in recent days of using money to curry favour with journalists ahead of the next election.

"It would be unacceptable for the Liberals to even appear to be trying to influence favour with the media," said Conservative MP Peter Kent, who is himself a former journalist.

The Conservatives also are critical of the political plans of Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union, which represents workers at several media organizations. Unifor has launched a plan to campaign against the Conservatives leading up to the next federal election and several Conservatives have argued this strategy calls into question the independence of journalists represented by the union.