Arts funding has always been a hot button issue for Canadian politicians. As a country that prides itself on the strength of its culture, it should not come as a surprise that many Canadians were in an uproar at Stephen Harper’s proposed cuts to the arts budget during his 2006 election campaign. In fact, some feel that it was so divisive of an issue that it cost him the Conservative majority. There might be some truth to this, but it’s difficult to know whether this is because Canucks are truly lovers of the arts, or simply because the Liberal party continues to use arts funding (or lack thereof) as a way to grab votes. Which leaves us with the question: are Liberals the true crusaders for the arts? They certainly have presented themselves that way.
The Liberal party may have only dedicated one page to the arts in their hundred page plan in the last election, but they pledged to double the Canadian Council of Arts budget. In December of 2011, Bob Rae (then acting president of the Liberal party) was so perturbed by the proposed funding cutbacks to CBC that he wrote a public letter and started an online petition aptly titled “Hands off our CBC.” Rae argued that the CBC was ‘vital’ to Canadian culture and way of life, and accused the Conservatives of trying to balance their deficit on the “back of the CBC.” Of course, the Liberals themselves did make sweeping cuts – about $400 million – to CBC in the 90’s, but people change, right?
To be fair, the Liberals aren’t the only ones using the arts to advance political agendas. In 2006 when Harper proposed budget cuts to arts funding, he reasoned that average Canadians didn’t really care much about the arts and so the money was better used elsewhere. In July 2011, Heritage Minister James Moore announced the Canadian government’s intention to focus on the arts in areas outside of direct funding, through the intensification of copyright law and intellectual property protection (the budget outlined by Canadian Council of Arts offers more details), although it is unclear whether or not Moore intends to use this as a justification for budget cutting in the future. This being said, Moore has stated that Canada’s arts funding for certain programs will be dwindling in 2012, but has not been clear as to which programs this will affect. Moore suggests that those artists who try to match public and private funding are those most likely to weather the storm.
As for the CBC, the Tories recently announced their intentions to move forward with previously announced funding cuts. Exactly how much they’re expected to cut is unclear. They will be expected to draw up proposals for the five to ten per cent budget cuts that all departments are being asked to make, though Bob Rae does insinuate that these cuts might be up to $110 million. Moore explains the conservative government’s plan for CBC is to “down-size and decentralize” and focus less on large city centres such as Montreal and Toronto, and more on smaller regions. In December of 2011 CBC themselves reported that Moore supported CBC’s 2015 goals to digitize, localize, and grow stronger in said smaller regions, and that their budget would allow them to achieve these goals with or without the additional $60 million they were supposedly promised to receive each year for ten years. Moore also explaind that what he is trying to do is cut budgets to the Canadian art department by cutting down on bureaucracy, leaving more money for the artists themselves.
Recently, Harper has approved some pretty hefty arts expenditures – also in the name of the everyday Canadian, or rather, the everyday Canadian mindset. As part of the 2012 arts pre-budget, heritage minister Moore has allocated 28 million for the bicentennial celebration of the war of 1812, a war that took place between American and British forces. According to Moore, this is part of his plan to focus on Canadian history, an issue he feels is closer to the hearts of Canadians, and a subject too often dismissed in Canadian High school education. Harper, on the other hand, hopes that this celebration will help Canadians move towards seeing themselves as more of a “warrior nation.” So it seems that Harper feels that, although the everyday Canadian probably doesn’t care too much about the arts, they do – or should – care about the war of 1812.