How do the Tories measure up on the arts?
TheStar.com - entertainment
October 08, 2008
This week the Toronto Star is taking a look how seriously the various contenders in the election take arts and culture in this country, and we're getting their promises and assessments on the record.
Today the Conservatives and Liberals have their say. Tomorrow, it's the NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc.
In the past two years the federal Tories have cut almost $45 million from arts and culture programs administered by Heritage Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Half of these cuts, totalling about $23 million, were made a couple of months before the federal election was called.
The cuts include:
The $4.7 million ProMart program, a demonstrably effective artists' travel support fund operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs;
The $9-million Trade Routes program that has for decades successfully kick-started export sales of Canadian films and music, run by Heritage Canada;
$300,000 formerly set aside for the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, which archives, restores, and makes available for digital distribution, Canadian film, television and musical recordings;
$1.5 million from the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, which helps top up the budgets of independent Canadian films and triggers private investment in Canadian films of up to $120 million;
$2.5 million from the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.
The Harper government's arts funding cuts followed its introduction of Bill C-10, which artists and producers branded as censorship, because it would have allowed government-appointed bureaucrats to withdraw or withhold tax credits from Canadian films deemed too violent or pornographic.
Bill C-10 will now be killed, according to the Conservatives' platform announced yesterday.
"Although these proposals were approved unanimously by the House of Commons, we will take into account the serious concerns that have been expressed by film creators and investors," it says.
The Conservatives would also create a new, refundable tax credit of up to $500 of fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts or cultural activities, such as music lessons, drama or art classes.
Other arts and culture funding issues were not addressed in the platform. Heritage Minister Josée Verner was too busy campaigning to comment, a spokesperson said.
The Canadian arts community is also concerned about the Conservatives' belated introduction earlier this year of long overdue and seriously flawed copyright legislation that, industry experts say, provides no real protection in the digital world for the Canadian creators of music, films and other forms of intellectual property, and threatens non-paying consumers of that property with litigation and fines.
The fallout over these issues has been intense, particularly in Quebec, where culture is identity.
In recent weeks, formal and informal protests across the country against Harper's arts funding cuts and his avoidance of a concrete cultural policy in the election campaign have been mounted on performance stages, at press conferences and on the Internet almost on a daily basis by musicians, actors, film industry workers, and other stakeholders in Canada's arts and culture industries on whose survival government investment depends.
The Prime Minister's recent characterization of artists as "people ... at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough" and somehow removed from "ordinary working people" has only inflamed passions. The reaction has suddenly made federal investment in the arts a hot-button issue.