FORT ST. JOHN -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trash-talked BCE Inc.'s widespread layoffs Friday, calling cuts to Bell Media a "garbage decision."

"I'm furious," Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in King City, Ont.

Bell Media said Thursday it is ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts after its parent company announced job reductions and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.

He said radio stations and small community newspapers are increasingly being bought up by large corporations that lay off journalists and change the quality of their offerings.

"Then, when people don't watch as much or engage as much the corporate entity say, 'Oh see, they're not profitable anymore, we're going to sell them off."'

Bell announced the cuts in the same memo to staff that praised it’s own fourth quarter economic performance.

BCE Inc. said it earned net income attributable to common shareholders of $382 million or 42 cents per diluted share in its latest quarter compared with a profit of $528 million or 58 cents per diluted share a year earlier

Bell Media's advertising revenues declined by $140 million in 2023 compared with the year before, and its news division is seeing more than $40 million in annual operating losses, chief executive Mirko Bibic said.

The prime minister said the move is eroding quality local journalism and Canada's democracy.

Stories from local communities are what binds the country together, he said.

"We need those local voices, and over the past years corporate Canada -- and there are many culprits on this -- have abdicated their responsibilities toward the communities that they have always made very good profits off of," Trudeau said.

"So yeah, I'm pretty pissed off."

British Columbia Premier David Eby responded by saying Bell had bought up the stations “like corporate vampires” then “sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists.”

He said Bell had overseen the “encrapification” of local news.

“And now they say, 'You know, it's no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations.' It's no longer viable to have investigative news, and they were allowed to do this,” he said. “I find it reprehensible. I think it's appalling.”

But Edwards said Vista pays attention to the needs of individual markets with local staff that live in the communities, and it doesn't use centralized programming.

“We have real people living in those communities. And it's what we do, it's who we are, and it's how we built a significant business,” he said.

“And we're really looking forward to picking up the stations and picking up all these employees and giving them a different opportunity.”



This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024

CJDC TV News is a division of Bell Media, which is part of BCE Inc.