Bid to pull city ads from Meta platforms fails at council

The City of Ottawa will continue to advertise on Facebook and Instagram after a motion before council failed by one vote Wednesday. 

Orléans West-Innes Coun. Laura Dudas put the motion forward after Facebook’s parent company Meta announced it would block Canadians from accessing news articles. 

“It is inappropriate for an American social media giant to bully local or national media in Canada. I just can’t abide by it, I can’t stand for it,” Dudas told council. 

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced last week that the federal government would suspend its advertising on Meta platforms, calling the company’s actions “irresponsible” and “unreasonable.” 

The Online News Act, passed June 22, will force Meta and Google to negotiate deals to pay producers when a user accesses news content through a link shared on their platforms. 

Dudas, a former journalist, said Meta’s decision to instead block the content will make it more difficult for the City of Ottawa and members of council to share information with residents, noting that this becomes essential when the city is facing a natural disaster. 

Motion divides council

Councillors who expressed support for the motion also spoke about the impact Meta’s decision will have on local journalism and its role in democracy. 

But others said they don’t feel it’s the right time for such a decision. Several expressed concern about loss of revenue and the impact of removing ads, specifically from Facebook, on the city’s recreation programs.

Others questioned why council was debating something that they believe is essentially a federal issue. 

“I don’t really want to be discussing this, but we’re here. I think, you know, the solution that has been put forward is performative in my view and is going to impact our residents in a negative way,” said Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard. 

City staff told councillors the ads account for about 20 per cent of Ottawa’s public relations advertising, and called the ads an effective tool.

“It doesn’t feel that this is our fight to fight, but also, I am concerned about the impact on our residents,” noted Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Sean Devine, who said while he understands the spirit behind the motion, he ultimately couldn’t support it. 

In the end, 10 councillors and the mayor voted in favour of the motion while 12 councillors voted against it. 

Several municipalities in Quebec including Gatineau have followed the federal government’s example and are removing ads from Meta platforms.