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PCs set to axe public notices in newspapers requirement

posted Dec 11, 2017, 8:35 AM by Kathy Carr
n what could be a first among Canadian provin­ces, Manitoba’s Progres­sive Conservative government has proposed a legislative amendment that would eliminate a requirement for them to issue public notices through newspapers.
News Media Canada CEO John Hinds said that while he has seen some municipal governments contemplate a shift of this nature in other provinces, until this week’s announcement he had never seen a provincial government issue such a proposal.
According to a provincial spokesperson, the government, including Crown corporations and special operating agencies, has spent an average of $205,500 annually on legal and tenders during the past five years, with just advertising coming in at less than $200,000, although the spokesperson was unable to clarify by how much.
This spokesperson also said that while the proposed legislation is intended to target provincial jurisdictions, there might also be municipal implications amid the 24 statutes that are being updated.
The shift, proposed this week by Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox, would also put the Manitoba Gazette online and free for the public to access.
The Gazette has been the government’s official by-subscription publication since 1871, and is used to publish government and public notices that are required by provincial statute or regulation.
While Hinds said that offering this information online for free is a positive, he questions how many Manitobans would read, or even know to read, this publication.
Ryan Nesbitt, publisher of Westman weekly publications Crossroads This Week and South Mountain Press, shared a similar sentiment, in that public notices receive greater attention when they’re in community publications that people actually read.
This way, he said, information is "in front of people’s faces and they don’t have to go in search of information they didn’t know they needed."
"Governments don’t like scrutiny," Hinds said with a laugh. "If you put a notice in the paper, people show up to a meeting, they write letters, they complain and they do all this stuff. It’s way easier if you don’t do that stuff."
In a release issued earlier this week, Cox said the shift is a means of removing barriers to the way the government shares information.
"We’ve noticed that Manitobans are moving more and more toward online sources to receive their news and information," she said. "As the preferred method to share information continues to evolve, we wish to modernize our approach with the Manitoba Gazette to give Manitobans free access to up-to-date information."
While the proposed legislative amendments would eliminate the need for government to publish notices in newspapers, Cox clarified that affected departments would still have the option of doing so as they deem necessary.
Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox said that the ambiguously worded press release points to potential dangers ahead, in that "it opens the door to abuse, and you should be very careful about opening that door."
Newspapers of all shapes and sizes continue to carry "very broad circulation" in the province, he said, offering them as a "very good way of reaching a broad swath of the Manitoba population."
He said that by cutting the requirement for government to issue notices in newspapers, they’re putting a greater onus on reporters to unearth things while also cutting back on a source of funding for journalists’ work.
"None of this is great news for democracy," he said. "The net result may be less cost to the government and that this information is available online, but the net result will not be that the public is better informed about what the government is doing."
Manitoba Community Newspaper Association president and Neepawa Banner & Press publisher Ken Waddell said he would decline comment on the legislation until such time he has seen its full version and his organization’s board of directors has decided on a position.

by Tyler Clarke - Story courtesy of the Brandon Sun