In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Arts and Culture

Posted 10/30/2008 by Grant Mitchell


During the recent federal election, Stephen Harper, in an effort to shore up support, attacked the “arts and culture elite” --  completely underestimating the strong support Canadians have for artistic and cultural contribution. 

The Conservative government has a shameful record on arts and culture – gutting program funding and marginalizing an entire industry.   This past summer, with little explanation and consultation with stakeholders, the Conservative government eliminated some 14 programs, totaling more than $44 million in cuts.   It shows not only contempt for our artists, but a complete lack of economic foresight.

Mr. Harper recently said "I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see... a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people."   This statement has actually no basis in fact:

1.  The "elite" who attend arts galas are not subsidized by tax payers' money.  In fact, they pay to attend these galas because that's how the many arts organizations that host them raise a significant amount of the money, which is then used to pursue arts and cultural projects.

2.  The Prime Minister's wife chairs a significant annual arts gala in Ottawa which raises money for the National Arts Center.  This is a wonderful event and a great cause -- Mrs. Harper should be commended for her dedication.

3.  The government funding that goes to arts and cultural groups is highly levered in our economy and creates many jobs.  This sector accounted for about $84 Billion worth of GDP annually and about 1.1 million jobs.  There is a huge leverage in these projects, in this funding, because these groups raise additional money, and because they create so many jobs for artists, who earn an average of $7,000 per year.

Quebec’s reaction to Mr. Harper’s dismissive proclamation about arts and culture was immediate: The bastion of culture that Quebec is drives Quebecois to understand implicitly the importance of cultural support, and the importance of this sector to the richness and the vitality of a community. 

It's also very interesting that when Albertans talk of building their major urban centres, Edmonton and Calgary, to world class cities and attracting international business, they understand that it is exceptionally important to have cities filled with culture, opera, art galleries, symphonies, and theater, in addition to sporting pursuits which Harper does not begrudge funding. There is no doubt that people see the importance of these cultural pursuits as rounding out the appeal of a world class city.

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