by Michael Wheeler
This week, more than a hundred members of the Canadian Arts Coalition met on Parliament Hill for meetings with more than a hundred MPs and Senators.
A hectic day of meetings for this group was capped off with a reception in the Speaker’s Lounge where the Minister of Heritage, James Moore, addressed an “electric” closing reception. From his speech to the arts advocates around the country:
“The tone of the coalition, and the way you are all coming together, in a very positive leading way, a forward leading way, this is what we aspire to, this is what we hope that we can do in terms of public policy achievements, and reaching out and talking to us. And it’s so important that that be the process, and it not be adversarial.
This is a majority Parliament and it’s not going anywhere for four years. The mix of MPs that you saw in the House, that you saw today, will be the fact of the Federal Parliament for the next four years. So we have to work together, we all will work together to keep that professional effect.”
Intrepid arts advocate and blogger Shannon Litzenberger live-blogged the meetings she went to including meetings with highly placed officials from Finance and the Minister himself. From each of these meetings, the message seemed to be the same: The arts will receive a 5% cut and it would really be in the interest of artists to not speak out against this government.
In fact, Conservative officials and MPs seemed to quite appreciate the efforts of the coalition to normalize relations between artists and the Harper Government, which have never been great, and have been terrible since the PM’s “Ordinary Canadians don’t care about the arts” statement in the 2008 election and the funding cuts to touring grants that preceded it.
Nevertheless, it was hard not to see the stick they were wielding to enforce this normalization of relations, when it was explained that some areas would be deemed “priority areas” with less cuts, which means of course that some areas, deemed not a priority, would be cut more.
Of course this is exactly the sort of thing that drives me nuts, and led me to leave a lengthy comment on Shannon’s blog, which you can read in its entirety here. Below is a portion of that response:
I found the comments from Finance’s Andrew Rankin….shall I say unnecessarily prescriptive? They can be translated as “Stop complaining and start celebrating our initiatives”. The problem is, their initiatives are worth frank discussion. Cutting SummerWorks, shifting Heritage funding to celebrate acts of war, cutting touring programs, funding totally BS festivals like the Walk of Fame Festival (Has ANYONE ever heard of this festival before?). It all adds up to bumbling, ideologically driven, poor public policy.
I also had a question about independent art and artists and the degree to which their needs are on the radar of this government. We have ushered in a new era where funding goes to major institutions who agree to “play ball” and thus can be controlled through access to this funding. Meanwhile the core generators of the cultural ecosystem, independent voices that are more difficult to be silenced, will continue to be starved of access to funding. Then later they will say, “But we increased arts funding!”, when in actuality they have just increased funding to organizations who will agree to be a sympathetic mouthpiece, or at least an uncritical one.
In the twelve hours since I left that comment, it seems the government has also found a new way to cut money from arts funding and other social programs that improve quality of life for Canadians.
The Globe and Mail reports a significant plan to change charitable giving “in which businesses and citizens shoulder more of the cost of giving.” This comes on top of plans to spend billions on jails, fighter jets, and oh – this just in – nuclear submarines. Is it just me or are some departments being asked to shoulder the burden of balancing the budget more than others?
The Minister of Heritage concluded his speech to MPs and arts advocates with the statement:
“I know that there are those of you that support all sort of political parties and that’s fine….It doesn’t matter. I almost think that supporting culture isn’t a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue, it’s the right thing to do.”
If nothing else, let’s agree to reject this statement as duplicitous, dangerous and insulting. This is a right-wing government that has decided to spend billions of dollars on militarization and corporate tax cuts, while shrinking the money available to all sorts of the social programs that have defined what is great about Canada, including a 5% cut to culture.
Lets not kid ourselves, even if we are stuck with a government the majority of Canadians did not vote for over the next four years, practically any other government would do better.