Halifax Council kneecaps a struggling industry

Newspapers around the world are grappling with a catastrophic decline in revenues, the consequences of which, for the future of journalism and democracy, are far from clear.

Against this background, Halifax Council has chosen to kneecap a key remaining revenue source for the Saltwire network, which publishes most of the region’s daily and weekly newspapers, including the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

On Tuesday, council approved a bylaw that will make it harder for Saltwire to distribute flyers in Halifax. The law imposes fines for anyone who leaves a flyer at a house displaying a “no flyers” sign. The person who delivers the flyer will be subject to a $25 fine for each offense, the distributor to a $250 fine.

Council will encourage residents to opt out of flyer delivery by printing and distributing thousands of “no flyers” stickers and signs.

This in itself is an extraordinary market intervention. First, there’s the irony of using printed notices to combat an alleged excess of printed materials. Second, is there any other lawful industry for which council would publish advertisements urging a citizenĀ  boycott?

A last minute amendment to Tuesday’s bylaw will make flyer delivery even more difficult by requiring that flyers in rural parts of the municipality be placed in tubes or boxes. Of course, Saltwire can’t whistle up thousands of newspaper tubes overnight, let alone install them. That’s a process that will reasonably take months, raising the question how anyone is supposed to deliver or receive flyers in the meantime.

Not our problem, said council.

Bylaw F-400 was passed without public consultation. Saltwire officials asked for a meeting to plead for a few months’ delay while they buy and install the mandatory tubes, but council blew them off.

At $88,344.43 per year, councilors probably don’t spend hours every week poring over colorful broadsheets to find the cheapest chicken thighs, apple juice, or Kraft slices. This leaves them more time to showboat their progressive bona-fides, and dream up new aspects of citizens’ lives to regulate. After all, everyone hates flyers.

Everyone, that is, except the thousands of financially stressed families who rely on flyers to stretch their painfully limited grocery budgets. Everyone, except the 1,000 Nova Scotians who earn income distributing flyers, and the thousands more employed by newspapers whose operations are supported by flyer revenues.