Canada's NDP


June 27th, 2024

MP Niki Ashton speaks to Bell media

Dear Mr. Malcolmson,

Please see below what the Hansard produced regarding a speech MP Ashton made inside Parliament to respond to Bell’s questions. You can also find a copy of that language here.

"Speaking of oligopolies and the unbreakable bond between successive Liberal and Conservative governments and the CEOs they cater to, I would be remiss if I did not bring up another corporation, Bell. We will find few Canadian companies that better exemplify this corporate arrogance than Bell Canada.

I have heard from the VP of Bell, Robert Malcolmson, a number of times since we in the NDP summoned the Bell CEO to come to committee on April 11 to explain why Bell cut 6,000 jobs and slashed programming in eight months. We held the CEO to account on behalf of Bell workers, on behalf of Bell customers and on behalf of Canadians.

Curiously, instead of getting to work to make amends with Canadians, Bell Media has been spending its time monitoring my social media and has chosen to send me a number of unsolicited letters that show just how much it does not get it. Let us be clear: It is a company that is an industry setter when it comes to tax avoidance. According to a report from Canadians for Tax Fairness, Bell used a series of loopholes and schemes to avoid paying over a billion dollars in taxes over a four-year period, ranking it as one of the 20 worst companies in the country in that regard.

In terms of corporate salaries, Mirko Bibic, Bell Canada's CEO, in 2023, earned $2.96 million in compensation, despite falling short of Bell's 2023 financial goals. Dividends to shareholders increased by 3.1% during this time. As always, it is workers who pay the price while wealthy CEOs profit.

When the CEO of Bell was at our committee, I confronted him about the reality in my constituency, where most people have little to no choice and have to look to Bell MTS for service. I pointed out how Bell bought out our once proudly publicly owned telecom provider, privatized by the Conservatives in the 1990s, Manitoba's MTS, and promised cheaper rates and better service. Instead, Bell shrunk the workforce and jacked up the rates, leaving many communities still waiting for that better service.

I raised two particular issues. One was the landlines in Dallas, Manitoba, that were not working reliably, forcing Susann Sinclair to communicate with her 89-year-old veteran father by walkie-talkie; landlines not working in 2024. I know for a fact that, following this exchange with the CEO, Bell MTS kicked it into high gear. It contacted Susann Sinclair repeatedly and, most important, it replaced the obsolete equipment servicing landlines in the Dallas area. It replaced it with new equipment that was sitting in storage. Finally, Susann's landlines have been working as they should.

Sadly, the VP of Bell refused to refer to any of that and has, in his two recent letters, incorrectly confused service issues in Bloodvein and Dallas. Bloodvein and Dallas are two different communities. They are not even close geographically. It is time for Bell executives to look at a map of our province and understand where their customers live.

Let us be clear that the service issue in Dallas was resolved, but not in Bloodvein. What is most surprising with my communications with Bell is its continuing refusal to take responsibility. When Bloodvein First Nation needed cellphone service during a wildfire for evacuation purposes, it was told by Bell that it would need to pay $652,000 to turn on a tower that was on its land.

In their letters to me, Bell disputed this even happened and referred to a temporary tower it put up. I was aware of that temporary tower, but the Bell executives got it wrong. It was not in Bloodvein; it was in Loon Straits to service natural resources fighting the fires. The signal did not reach Bloodvein at all. Three years later, and even after our April 11 hearings, Bloodvein still does not have cell service.

I make no apologies for fighting for my constituents. I make no apologies for holding to account greedy CEOs and executives who are making profits on the backs of first nations, rural communities, Manitobans, consumers across the country and workers who have been laid off.

I hope the grocery store CEOs, big oil and telecom giants at Bell Media and the rest are paying attention. Rest assured, we will be working hard to go after them, to go after the profits they make on the backs of Canadians. We will continue to bring the fight for an excess profit tax so they can finally pay their fair share.

While billionaires and CEOs know they can count on the Liberals and Conservatives, northerners, first nations people, people on fixed incomes and Canadians know they can count on us in the NDP to fight for them.”

We have very much appreciated your tenacity as far as following up with that young person who had to change their school plan after their parents lost their job at a company Bell had purchased. That being said, they asked to stay anonymous, and we’ve chosen to respect that. We did share with them the letter you had sent us as well as a contact information for them to reach you. In our last contact with them, they mentioned that they were still trying to get what they’re owed, so we hope that happens.

We would also encourage your team to take a look at this very helpful map of Manitoba provided by the provincial government, as we think it will ensure you don’t get communities confused in the future like you did in a number of your letters.