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Newspapers Dying? Well, Tory Backers Keep Trying to Buy Torstar

A new rival bid includes more donors to Conservatives and ups the price.

Bryan Carney 9 Jul

Bryan Carney is director of web production at The Tyee and reports on technology and privacy issues. You can follow his very occasional tweets at @bpcarney.

Newspaper chain Torstar has confirmed it has a second bidder to buy it.

The new $58-million bid by brothers Matthew and Tyler Proud — both Toronto tech company CEOs — is for $6 million more than the previous bid by Nordstar.

Ontario Liberal “heavyweight” Greg Sorbara is part of the new Torstar bid, according to the Globe and Mail.

But a scan by The Tyee finds other key figures in the rival bid, like the first, appear to have a political donation history that includes conservative candidates, including towards leadership campaigns for Maxime Bernier, Doug Ford, Kevin O’Leary and Patrick Brown.

Legal software firm CEO Matthew Proud’s name appears in Election Canada’s database as a giver to Conservative candidate Maxime Bernier’s leadership campaign in 2017, his donation of $1,525 the maximum allowed.

A “Matthew Proud” of Toronto also appears in the database for a 2006 donation of $1,000 to the late Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty’s successful campaign in the Whitby-Oshawa riding.

Matthew Proud also appears in the provincial donor database for a $15,000 donation to Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservative Party leadership campaign, as well as a $1,000 and $250 party contribution in 2018 and 2019.

The Toronto Star reported that Neil Selfe, founder of financial company Infor Financial Group, is also involved in the new bid.

Neil Selfe’s name appears in a donation database for Kevin O’Leary’s CPC leadership bid in 2017 for $1,550, as well as a party donation of $1,495 the same year.

A Neil Selfe also donated the maximum $1,600 to Doug Ford’s leadership campaign in 2018.

A Neil Selfe of Toronto also appears in donation records to the Liberal Party ranging from $500 to $1,100 in the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2016, and in Ontario records for donations between $1,200 and $1,400 to Progressive Conservative riding associations in Ajax and Pickering-Uxbridge ridings or the party in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The Tyee requested comment from Proud and Selfe but has yet to hear back.

The original bidder, Nordstar, is a company assembled for the purpose by Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett, with financial backing by Canso Investment Counsel Ltd., which is also the largest debt-holder for Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper chain.

Questions arose regarding the potential changes in the political leanings at Torstar when the names of the pair showed up in donor records for Conservative party candidates including Maxime Bernier.

But Torstar board chair John Honderich expressed hope the company would maintain its “progressive brand.”

The second bid has caused Torstar’s shares value to rise, after a long decline leading to the seeking of a buyer.

Nordstar, which appears to have the backing of Torstar’s board of directors, has a chance to match the bid. If they do not, the board will give preference to the new higher bid, Torstar reported.

The company remains under investigation by the Competition Bureau along with Postmedia for allegations it conspired contrary to the Competition Act during a deal in 2017.

Despite the battering the newspaper industry has taken due to Facebook and Google undercutting its advertising model, and the COVID-19 pandemic further depressing ad sales, observers point to the collectively large subscriber base to Torstar’s newspapers and lack of debt as strong points for potential investors.

Earlier this week, David Gray-Donald published in Briarpatch a lengthy analysis, arguing that Torstar is well-positioned to transition to a business model that shifts revenue from mostly advertising to mostly subscriptions.

He consulted with media financial experts and concluded “Torstar could be a good investment — despite the skepticism from the business community — if you’re not looking for huge profits.”

“Torstar’s flagship Toronto Star newspaper (with online editions for seven major cities across the country), along with the Hamilton Spectator, Waterloo Region Record, St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune, Peterborough Examiner, around 50 per cent ownership in Canadian publication of the Sing Tao Daily, around 70 community papers, and all Torstar’s investments, assets and liabilities are being sold for $52 million,” tallied Gray-Donald.

Torstar is one of the “the big seven” media companies shaping “mainstream discourse in Canada,” he noted.

“Foundations, unions, progressive pension funds, and wealthy individuals should seriously consider making a bid for Torstar now, given the potentially enormous social impact. And failing that, these institutional players should prepare for the next time an opportunity like this comes around,” said Gray-Donald.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Media

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