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Montreal Gazette expecting 'up to 10' layoffs as Postmedia makes cross-country cuts

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Publisher Postmedia Network Corp. is laying off 11 per cent of its editorial staff, less than a week after workers were told the company was grappling with "economic contraction," The Canadian Press reported earlier this week.

Just how the layoffs will affect Montreal's only English-language daily is still unclear. In an email obtained by CTV News, Editor-in-Chief Bert Archer wrote that he would work "to determine which classifications and roles may be impacted."

"I will work with HR to move as quickly as possible," he wrote, adding that anyone considering a voluntary layoff should notify him or human resources. "I've been advised that we are looking to reduce staffing levels by up to 10."

Archer declined to comment to CTV News about the layoffs.

Postmedia, which owns several newspapers, including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, and Montreal Gazette, announced the cuts in a town-hall meeting with staff on Tuesday.

According to The Canadian Press, Gerry Nott, acting senior vice-president of editorial content, said the cuts would impact all of the company's publications with the exception of Brunswick News and Postmedia Editorial Services, which have already been downsized.

'CUTTING INTO THE BONE'

If The Gazette does lay off 10 unionized workers, it would represent a 22 to 25 per cent cut to union staff, double the 11 per cent rate announced by Nott on Tuesday.

That number took many by surprise, sources say, who asked not to be identified for fear of workplace repercussions.

"We're all shocked and upset," said one journalist, who feared the layoffs would remove the newsroom's ability to keep up with one of Canada's most competitive and fast-paced news markets.

"We know the math, and we know what it takes to put out this newspaper," they added. "We're all worried that in a year's time, or two, that we might actually fold."

"We fear this will lead to a vicious circle of declining subscriptions and advertising revenue, because we will be offering readers less, which will, in turn, lead to more cuts, and ultimately end in the closing of the newspaper."

Montreal Gazette cartoonist Terry Mosher, better known as "Aislin," fears staff cuts will inhibit the paper's ability to transition to an ever-digitalized news market.

"It's inevitable the print newspaper is going to end, and we're switching to online like everybody else. But my fear is we won't have enough staff left to even produce an online edition," he said. "You need people to produce whatever the product is."

Rita Legault, former journalist at the Gazette and current communications director at the Quebec Community Groups Network, said the 25 per cent cut is bad news for Montreal's anglophone and allophone population.

"I was crushed when I read that yesterday. Absolutely crushed," she said.

"In the case of the Gazette, it's 25 per cent less. That is more than double the pain of some of the other papers. And for a minority-language community newspaper that has an important job to do, it just hurts."

The union representing Postmedia staff lamented the incoming cuts, which it says will deal a significant blow to the capacity of local papers to cover their communities.

"We've had just round after round of cuts," said Martin O'Hanlon, president of CWA Canada - The Media Union.

"We've always said, 'they've cut down to the bone.' And now, they're really cutting into the bone."

O'Hanlon said it's not yet clear why Montreal appears to be looking at additional cuts compared to other markets, but told CTV he expects a balancing act from Postmedia, which manages newspapers of varying sizes.

"Certainly, Montreal is one of the harder-hit ones," he said. "While we think it's a skeleton staff, with only about 40 people left there in the union. That, for Postmedia, is a pretty big number."

"We have some papers where there's like three people there in the newsroom," he added.

CTV News reached out to Postmedia but did not immediately receive a response.  

MP CONTACTS POSTMEDIA

Anthony Housefather, member of parliament for the Montreal riding of Mount-Royal, wrote to social media Thursday to call the layoffs "unreasonable," and pledged to contact Postmedia.

"This is the only daily newspaper serving more than 1,000,000 English-speaking Quebecers," he wrote.

"Good corporate citizens have duties to minority language communities."

In an interview with CTV, he says he had spoken to the company and hoped to have additional conversations regarding the cuts. 

"One of my jobs as a member of parliament is to speak for my community," he said. "I'm just using my voice as a citizen, but as a citizen who is privileged to be able to reach the upper echelons of Postmedia because of who I am."

"I'm simply explaining the reality of our community," he said.

Montreal millionaire philanthropist Mitch Garber wrote that a folded Gazette would make for a "sad outcome" for the storied newspaper. 

"We can't let The (Montreal Gazette) die," he wrote. "Yes, it's a free market economy and I am a capitalist, but not having an English-language newspaper in Quebec would be a sad outcome."

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Montreal's Caroline Van Vlaardingen. 

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