Bell takes wage subsidy money then fires news media workers

Dan O'Toole, one of 200 Bell Media workers fired

GETTING FIRED IS BAD FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. But Bell Media couldn’t care less. Which is strange, given how the company makes so of much of how much it cares about mental health.

The corporation chopped 210 of its workers in early February, without warning—just days after its 2020 version of “Bell Let’s Talk Day”, the showpiece of its ongoing campaign to advance the cause of better mental health care.

Dan O’Toole, the popular TSN sportscaster, was one of the 210 cut. (O'Toole was on the air when Bell announced the firings.) He took to Twitter to point to the glaring difference between what Bell talks about and what it does. O’Toole wrote: “Let’s talk. We should. Let’s talk. Does it mean anything without a hashtag? Oh right. Wrong day. So I have to mention the company for it to mean anything?

“But what if I was fired by the company that makes the hashtag about mental health? Do I still include them in the hashtag?”

O’Toole has personal experience with mental health issues. He left his TSN show for a number of weeks last summer to “work on his mental health”.

Local news weakened

Bell wouldn’t even confirm how many jobs it has cut, but Unifor, the union representing some Bell employees, said 210 jobs have been eliminated from television newsrooms in the Toronto area. The entire staff of the Montreal radio station CJAD got the axe. More layoffs are expected at CTV newsrooms across the country.

Unifor condemned the layoffs and said they come just when their communities need journalists most. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Canadians have seen how important a strong media sector is to their continued health and safety,” said union president Jerry Dias.

“These cuts go against the assurances made by the broadcasters last summer to the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to stand by local news.”

Last summer, Canada’s major broadcasters told the CRTC local news was “sacred.” The broadcasters got the CRTC to loosen regulations to allow broadcasters to continue robust and relevant local programming during the pandemic.

“Despite their commitment to save local news, they’re not protecting newsrooms now,” Dias said.

“Our democracy, our right to be informed and to push back against the tide of false information relies on a strong media sector,” said Unifor Media Director Howard Law.

Bell filched millions

What makes the Bell job cuts even worse is that the corporation has no real need to save money. Bell is one of the most profitable companies in Canada.

Bell is sitting on $5 billion in cash reserves, and its internet operations are showing a 10-per-cent profit as it benefits from all the Zoom calls and Googling being done from home as Canadians wait out the health crisis. Bell is not a company in need of a government handout—and yet ...

Bell has glommed on to $122 million from the CEWS (Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy)—a pandemic-related federal program whose one and only objective was to keep people at work. But, instead of using the CEWS money to keep its journalists working, Bell chose to fire workers and increase dividend payouts to its shareholders.

A National Post investigation in December revealed that at least 68 publicly traded companies had received CEWS handouts while also paying out shareholder dividends. A spokesperson for BCE, Bell’s parent, told the Post that the $122 million in subsidies “were not a material amount.”

As of late January, the government has paid out more than $51 billion to 359,880 unique applicants through the CEWS program, which was recently extended to June 2021.

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