Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is looking at ways Canada Post could take over the distribution of Quebec’s regional and local newspapers.
“The regional newspapers […] play a fundamental role that others cannot play,” the minister said during a news conference Thursday.
His comments came after Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s announcement earlier this week that as of next spring, weekly flyer-stuffed plastic bags containing circulars, coupons and local newspapers — dubbed Publisacs in Quebec — will only be delivered to households that ask for them.
Currently, residents have the option to refuse Publisacs.
Rodriguez fears other municipalities in Quebec may follow Montreal’s decision, and since weekly newspapers are distributed with the Publisacs, Quebecers may lose access to their local information.
“This is an issue I’m following,” said Rodriguez. “I have to meet with Canada Post on this issue.”
The Crown corporation is the only other entity that has the capacity to distribute local and regional weeklies to residents’ doorsteps, but its rates are prohibitive, costing up to three times as much as the price charged by Transcontinental, which owns Publisac.
On Monday, Plante said the city will establish a financial assistance program to support local newspapers during the transition period.
Rodriguez says his department will also offer financial support to various media, but he says it will be a lost cause for papers that depend on the distribution system to get their publications into readers’ hands.
“I’ll look into it with Canada Post, but I’m certainly open to discussion,” he said.
“The papers not only have to be published; they have to reach people.”
Environmentalists welcome Montreal’s move
Montreal’s announcement was a victory for critics and environmentalists who have for years been calling on the city to stop the weekly door-to-door distribution of plastic bags to thousands of households across the island.
In 2019, Charles Montpetit, a resident of Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood, launched a petition calling for Publisacs to be distributed only to those who request them, describing the current distribution model as an “ecological disaster.”
“I feel quite elated,” said Montpetit earlier this week. “It’s something we’ve been after for three years […] and [city officials] weren’t easy to convince.”
LISTEN: Montreal resident explains why he supports Montreal’s opt-in model for Publisacs:
Let’s Go15:00Montreal Opts for Publisac Opt-In
Still, Rodriguez says regional newspapers are a vector of democracy and he says distribution by Canada Post is quite possible.
“I never say no. I never say it’s impossible […] I’m not closed to anything,” he said.