More than a month before the federal election, three arts groups released a report pointing out the Conservative government’s shortsighted views around culture.
The Canadian Conference of the Arts, the Canadian Arts Coalition, and the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance acknowledged that funding levels “remained relatively steady” in the 2015-16 budget for the first time since 2012.
But the trio of organizations noted that arts and culture “do not appear to be a key priority for the government”.
“The Canadian Arts Coalition’s calls for increased funding for the Canada Council for the Arts went unheeded,” the report stated. “While the government has protected funding to the Canada Council over the last number of years, on a per capita basis, funding to the Council has declined (between 2005-06 and 2015-16, a decline of 8.3%).”
In real numbers, per capita funding fell from $5.54 to $5.08 while Stephen Harper was prime minister.
That’s about to change significantly if the Liberals keep their promises after forming a majority government.
A week after the arts groups’ report was released, then candidate and now incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau pledged major investments in this area.
He declared that the Liberals would double the annual federal contribution to the Canada Council of the Arts from $180 million to $360 million. Another $25 million would be put into Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.
The Harper-led government had imposed 10 percent cuts on Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board in the 2012-13 budget.
In addition, the Liberals promised that some of the $20 billion being spent on infrastructure over the next decade will result in more money going to cultural facilities in communities across the country.
This will likely be welcomed by proponents of a new Vancouver Art Gallery, who couldn’t squeeze any capital funding from the Conservative government.
“Culture is what defines us,” Trudeau said at the time. “It brings us together. Yet for a decade, our cultural and creative industries have been under attack by Harper.”
The Liberal leader delighted arts and cultural community by explicitly recognizing the role that their work plays in stimulating the economy and promoting national identity.
“Our artists, producers, composers, and technicians are world leaders in their fields and undeniable Canadian assets,” Trudeau said. “With more platforms available to share our Canadian content, now is the time for targeted investment that will grow local economies, create jobs for the middle class, and help Canadian artists share our stories.”
The three arts groups’ report was filled with information about how funding levels had changed over the years. Museums and galleries have been especially hard hit, with “actual funding” less than what was being granted in 1972.
“The result has been to force museums to increase admission fees, to rely on private donations, and to charge for a variety of their costs, which often makes them inaccessible to Canadians,” the report stated.
It also noted that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation eliminated 1,200 positions because of 10.7 percent in funding cuts since 2012.
Trudeau, on the other hand, has promised a $150-million annual funding increase for CBC.
One of the most contentious aspects of the Harper era has been the government’s attempts to fund pet projects.
This was most notable when more than $28 million was spent to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. It occurred before Canada was even a country.
Back in 2010, the Straight analyzed the Marquee Tourism Events Program grants. It showed that in the previous budget, B.C. only received $2.9 million of the $47 million spent that year.
Calgary, which elected Harper and many other Conservative MPs, received more money, including nearly $900,000 in grants for Canadian Football League events and $1.92 million for the Calgary Stampede.
The arts groups’ report stated that when the Conservative government funds arts- and culture-linked activities, it’s “often in connection with other priorities”.
For example, in the last budget $210 million was set aside over four years to celebrate Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 2017.
In addition, $110.5 million in capital funding went to the National Arts Centre and $150 million in the Canada 150 Infrastructure Program will upgrade community facilities, all timed for the anniversary.
“Total funding thus far for the 150th celebrations amounts to $470.5 million,” the report noted. “While this is a significant sum, the arts are far from front and centre in the government’s plans for the anniversary celebrations. This stands in contrast to the celebration of Canada’s centennial in 1967, when the arts were at the core of the celebrations and the government commissioned new works.”
There’s still time for a Trudeau-led government to make adjustments. And from what he said on the campaign trail, it’s clear that he values what artists offer the country.
“I want our creators, in all fields, in all communities—including indigenous peoples and linguistic minorities—to feel supported and valued by their government,” Trudeau declared last month. “Cultural investment creates jobs, stimulates tourism, and improves our overall quality of life and sense of community. A Liberal government is committed to celebrating and supporting our rich heritage that makes us distinctly Canadian.”