Canadian News and Media

In a country as vast as Canada, the news plays a critical role in fostering a sense of national community. Hearing what other Canadians are up to — even if they’re located thousands of miles away — makes a giant country feel a little bit smaller.

Canadian Newspapers

Canada has a rich history of print journalism tracing back to the mid-19th century, when many of the country’s leading politicians and nation-builders were newspaper editors fond of using their publications as a mouthpiece for their partisan views. Many of the country’s largest papers still trace their roots back to that tumultuous era.

The Globe and Mail and the National Post are Canada’s two leading national newspapers, sold in supermarkets and corner stores across the country. Though both are based out of Toronto, they employ reporters working across Canada and cover stories of provincial and national importance, as well as Canadian perspectives on international affairs. Both have acclaimed editorial pages featuring the commentary of some of Canada’s most famous political pundits, including Andrew Coyne (b. 1960) and Rex Murphy (b. 1947) for the Post, or Jeffrey Simpson (b. 1949) and Margaret Wente (b. 1950) for the Globe. Politically speaking, the Globe is known for being more liberal while the Post is more conservative. Canadians generally read the paper whose biases match their own.

Every major Canadian city is home to numerous local papers as well, though in most cases only one or two reign supreme. In terms of circulation, the biggest local “dailies” include the Toronto StarOttawa Citizen, and Hill Times in Ontario, the Montreal Gazette and French-language Le Devoir in Quebec, and the Vancouver ProvinceCalgary HeraldEdmonton Journal, and Winnipeg Free Press in the west. Many large Canadian cities also have a popular tabloid-style newspaper called the “[City Name] Sun” (for example, the Toronto Sun and Calgary Sun), which are all run by the same company. Two of Canada’s largest media corporations, Postmedia and Torstar, also distribute a small, free newspaper in certain cities: 24 Hours in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, and Metro in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Halifax.

Magazines for sale in a Canadian drugstore.

Canadian Magazines

Canada’s magazine market is fairly limited, with most Canadians simply reading popular American publications like People, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. A few popular U.S. publications, such as Reader’s Digest and ELLE, publish “Canadian Editions” that include a bit of bonus Canadian content.

As far as made-in-Canada magazines go, the most commercially successful tend to be lifestyle/homemaking magazines geared towards women, including Chatelaine, Canadian Living, House & Home, and (in Quebec) Coup De Pouce. The country’s most iconic national magazine, meanwhile, is Maclean’s, which has been in print for more than 100 years. It offers an eclectic mix of news, commentary, entertainment, and sports. Other, more niche publications include Canada’s History (formerly called The Beaver, but renamed for rather unfortunate reasons), the celebrity tabloid Hello! Canada, and the geography and travel-focused Canadian Geographic. For budgetary reasons, a couple of previously long-running Canadian magazines are no longer available in print and instead offer “online only” versions, such as Canadian Family and Canadian Business.

The CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC, is a taxpayer-funded, government-run corporation that provides a variety of free radio and television services to Canadians across the country. No matter where you are in Canada, your TV and radio will be able to pick up a CBC broadcast.

These days, when your typical Canadian refers to “the CBC,” he is speaking of CBC Television, a fairly ordinary television station that broadcasts comedies, dramas, children’s programming, and news. Most CBC TV shows are produced by the network itself, which makes it the country’s largest source of made-in-Canada content. The network is headquartered in Toronto, but most big Canadian cities also have their own local CBC studio that broadcasts some local news programming through the main channel.

The CBC was created by the government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King (1874-1950) in 1936, at a time when radio and television were relatively new and the federal government was eager to ensure Canada would possess a strong media infrastructure. In recent decades, however, the CBC has become steadily more unpopular and controversial since what it offers is no longer particularly unique. Most of its shows are not widely watched, and some Canadians — particularly those of a conservative bent — characterize it as a waste of tax dollars. CBC fans, however, argue the network actually produces higher quality programming than other stations precisely because it relies on government funding and doesn’t have to pander to a mass audience. Opinions on the CBC can spawn pretty polarizing debates in modern Canada.

CTV

A division of Bell Media

Global

A division of Corus Entertainment

Sportsnet

A division of Rogers Media

TSN

A division of Bell Media

Television Stations

Basic cable in Canada is dominated by two channels, CTV and Global, which broadcast mostly American programs. The stations are difficult to generalize beyond that, as they air a vast diversity of programming, including sitcoms, dramas, reality shows, talk shows, children’s programming, and news. Sports in Canada are broadcast by the speciality channels TSN and Sportsnet, though the CBC also provides coverage of hockey games and the Olympics.

Beyond the basic cable bubble there are hundreds of speciality channels, both American and Canadian, that are available to any Canadians willing to pay for the privilege. Of course, these days, more and more Canadians are eschewing cable television altogether in favor of on-demand, internet-based services like Netflix Canada and its less popular competitor, Crave TV, that allow subscribers to watch popular shows on a when-you-want-it basis.

The popularity of American television in Canada has been a longtime concern of the Canadian government, which worries that too much American TV erodes Canadians’ sense of identity. As a result, between the hours of 6-11 p.m., basic cable television stations are legally required to devote 50 per cent of their programming to Canadian shows. Speciality channels have it a bit easier, and must only ensure 35 per cent of their total programming is Canadian.

TV News

Most of Canada’s major television networks offer substantial news coverage, both through multiple evening news broadcasts (usually beginning at 6:00 p.m., followed by re-runs or updates at 8 and 10 p.m.) and several speciality 24-hour news channels as well. The first news broadcast of the night will usually be about local news and will be produced by the local affiliate of the network (for example, CTV Saskatoon), and is then followed by a separate, “national news” show some hours later.

CTV airs its main local news broadcast from 6 to 7 p.m. Its national news broadcast, CTV National News, then runs from 7 to 8 p.m. on its 24/7 news channel, CTV News Channel. Until very recently, CTV National was anchored by an elderly gentleman named Lloyd Robertson (b. 1934), who was North America’s longest-running TV anchorman. Today the host is Lisa LaFlamme (b. 1964).

Global airs a half-hour of local news at 6 p.m., followed by the national news broadcast, Global National, at 6:30 p.m. (ET, 5:30 p.m. elsewhere). It is hosted by Dawna Friesen (b. 1964).

Lastly, the CBC airs local news from 6-7 p.m. (or 6-6:30 p.m. in some cities), followed by its national news show, The National, at 10 p.m. It’s hosted by Peter Mansbridge (b. 1948), who has had the job since 1988. In recent years, the National has perhaps become best known for its At Issue Panel, which features commentary on current events from three Canadian political commentators, two of whom are usually Andrew Coyne (b. 1960) and Chantal Hébert (b. 1954).  The CBC also runs a second channel, CBC News Network, that airs 24/7 news coverage.

A session of The National's "At Issue" Panel, June 22, 2016.
CBC

Radio

While there are a vast array of radio options in Canada, offering both music and talk, most broadcasters tend to be exceedingly local in scope, with a range limited to a single city and programming that reflects that. Most big Canadian cities will have several news-and-talk stations, as well as a variety of music stations for fans of every genre.

The CBC’s radio arm, CBC Radio, broadcasts five different radio stations out of 34 Canadian cities. For English-speakers, there is CBC Radio 1, which mainly does news and current events banter, CBC Radio 2, which plays classical music, and CBC Radio 3, which is a satellite radio channel specializing in indie music. For French-speakers, there is ICI Radio-Canada Première, which does French talk, and ICI Musique, which does French music (note that in French, the entire CBC is somewhat confusingly called “Radio-Canada“).

These days, an increasing lot of Canadians get their radio broadcasts through the internet, and most Canadian radio stations offer a “listen live” option on their website. Many talk radio stations similarly now offer much of their content in downloadable podcast form.

Shortwave Radio

For 67 years, the Government of Canada used to maintain a shortwave news and information radio station known as Radio Canada International (RCI), but it was officially shut down on October 31, 2012, reflecting the dwindling influence of shortwave radio in the internet age. Today, a modified version of RCI exists as a multilingual online radio station, run by the CBC. It provides news and analysis on Canadian and global affairs in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic.

The Government of Canada continues to maintain an Ottawa-based shortwave radio station known by the call letters CHU. It does nothing except endlessly broadcast the official Canadian time. It can be picked up on three frequencies: 3330, 7850, and 14670 kHz.

News Websites

Canada has a few news and commentary websites, but most deal exclusively with politics. Canada.com is perhaps the most generic, and serves as a news aggregator for content from the various online editions of the Postmedia chain of newspapers. Canoe.ca is also owned by Postmedia and does basically the same thing, but is more focused on lifestyle and entertainment news.

The Huffington Post Canada is Canada’s most popular online news source. The Canadian edition of the popular American online media chain, it contains some original political reporting, as well as original political commentary from a vast assortment of bloggers, most of whom are left-leaning. The TyeeNational Observer, and VICE Canada are news sites of a similarly progressive bent, and do some independent political reporting and commentary as well. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the online news channel The Rebel, run by noted conservative provocateur Ezra Levant (b. 1972), which produces mostly video content. iPolitics, which, as the name suggests, is another site deeply focused on the political world, seeks to be more politically balanced.

Media Ownership

Beyond standard concerns over matters like accuracy and bias, the issue of ownership continues to be one of the biggest controversies surrounding contemporary Canadian media and journalism. Canada has very few independently owned and operated newspapers, magazines, TV channels, or radio stations; almost every outlet of note is part of some vast empire owned by a handful of the country’s richest families.

Today, more than 80 per cent of Canadian media is owned by a cartel of just five corporations: Bell Media, Rogers Media, PostmediaCorus, and Torstar, each of which own dozens of different print publications and television networks under various subsidiaries and affiliates. In fact, it’s actually quite hard to keep track of who owns what on any given day, since the “big five” are almost constantly engaged in ongoing schemes to merge, buy out, or take over each other and their various properties.

The controversy tends to be most pronounced in individual Canadian provinces and cities, many of which may find all, or at least most of their region’s major newspapers, television channels, and radio stations owned by the same company, as Canadian media corporations tend to stake out different geographic “zones” of influence. The result can be very repetitive coverage, as well as concerns about what stories aren’t being seen when a single company does all the selecting.