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Bell CEO blames ‘shifting viewing habits’ for thousands of job cuts

Bibic called before Parliament after the company announced 4,800 job cuts in February
BCE chief executive Mirko Bibic is to give a speech to the Canadian Club Toronto Monday. Bibic speaks during a CRTC hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

As members of Parliament accuse Bell Canada of corporate greed, the head of the company is defending its decision to cut thousands of jobs, citing a shift in Canadians’ viewing habits away from traditional TV.

Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats grilled CEO Mirko Bibic during often combative exchanges at a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee on Thursday afternoon.

Parliamentarians had ordered him to appear and answer for the cuts, which affect nine per cent of BCE Inc.’s workforce.

In February, the company announced it was cutting some 4,800 jobs, ending multiple television newscasts and selling off 45 of its 103 radio stations.

“The idea you saw fit to take substantial bonuses and equity packages at a time your workers, employees and journalists could have had their jobs saved is a bit disappointing,” Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed told Bibic.

“I think it’s important to think about Canadians, particularly those who subsidized your company for so long.”

Conservative heritage critic Rachael Thomas said it’s “really rich” for a company worth $40 billion that received government subsidies to lay off its workers.

She accused Bibic of evading her questions, saying it made the CEO look “shady.”

“You have not been able to answer a single one of my questions directly today,” Thomas said.

Bibic defended his company, blaming factors like productivity, inflation and delays in the implementation of the federal Online Streaming Act — a new law meant to level the playing field between traditional broadcasters and streaming companies, under which Bell is benefiting from significant regulatory relief.

He told MPs that the media ecosystem in Canada “is in crisis.”

“The industry is in flux due to technological disruption, changing viewer habits, shifting advertiser demand and vigorous competition from foreign web giants who are not subject to the same costly regulations as Canadian broadcasters,” Bibic said.

READ ALSO: Bell cuts come after it was granted $40M in regulatory relief: St-Onge