by Michael Wheeler
Benskin's Bill C-427 was defeated by HarperCons
Yesterday, Bill C-427 came up for second reading in Parliament. A private member’s bill proposed by the NDP’s Tyrone Benskin (previous Artistic Director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop), Bill C-427 was an Act to amend the Income Tax Act to allow income averaging for artists.
These changes were “designed by neutral tax experts at the Library of Parliament to achieve the desired tax fairness for artists and cultural entrepreneurs.” It failed 142 to 121. All of the votes against it were by Conservative MPs, including Heritage Minister James Moore.
The tax codes in Britain, Germany, The Netherlands and France have all made similar adjustments to encourage cultural production by independent producers. Corporate tax rates has been lowered by one third (22% to 15%) since Harper took power. Certainly cultural tax rates could be amended to reflect a level playing field. Unfortunately the Conservative Government couldn’t appreciate the value of a tax code that allowed entrepreneurs in cultural industries to be taxed at competitive rates with international trading partners and competitors.
From Benkin’s website:
WHY IS BILL C-427 NECESSARY
Due to the irregular hours and inconsistent incomes frequently associated with their work, artists are nearly always disadvantaged both by punitively high taxation during years of high earning and by virtue of their ineligibility for a number of Federal programs such as Employment Insurance (EI), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and others. C-427 will begin to level the playing field by allowing them to average their income over an elective period, achieving considerable tax savings over two to five years.
The critique of the Bill was presented in a recent Globe and Mail op-ed by Kevin Milligan, which levels three charges against income averaging: 1) Last time we tried it was complicated. 2) Last time there were more tax brackets. 3) Last time tax rates were higher.
These reasons not to act to support Canadian culture through a fair tax structure, frankly, are awful. They can be summarized by two statements: “Why do you guys want to make everything so complicated?” and “Come on guys, it’s not so bad.” None of these standards are applied to corporate interests in the myriad of ways they have been accommodated and caressed by the government. They are not particularly compelling as arguments go either: Even meagre savings, when you are living on the poverty-level income of many artists, would be significant.
Heritage Minister spoke and voted against C-427
When the Minister was asked if he would support the bill for Second Reading yesterday, he said he would not. Moore listed new museums, programs and a recent visit by members of The Canadian Arts Coalition as signs the government was doing a great job with culture. He did not address at any time the financial realities of being an artist or the particulars of the bill, preferring to recite the institutionally-based initiatives he controls the funding for. He did not address why the government won’t support a tax system that allows our cultural workers to compete on a level playing field.
If the Harper Government doesn’t want to work to support culture and the economic paradigm that defines it, that’s cool. We kind of knew it all along. Let’s not pretend this was a decision made out of anything but partisan interest however. This bill would have made a major impact on the viability of being an artist in Canada. It begs the question whether culture not tied to The War of 1812, or the major institutions it controls, is something this government wants to encourage.
You can follow Michael on Twitter at @michaelcwheeler
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.
Canada's purchase of new fighter jets is projected to cost $30 Billion, or 192 times the amount distributed annually by The Canada Council.
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.