Source : Ottawa Citizen
Despite $50M in recent cuts, Harper says funding has gone up
Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's commitment to Canada's cultural sector, saying that federal support for the arts has increased since he took office.
However, Mr. Harper also said that his government was committed to weeding out wasteful spending, even when that initiative results in cuts to some programs that support the work of artists.
Federal support of the arts has recently become a hot political issue after the Conservative government announced cuts of about $50 million over the next few years to arts programs.
According to a Conservative talking-points memo obtained by Canwest News Service, one program was axed because its grant recipients included "a general radical," "a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank" and a rock band that uses an expletive as part of its name.
"The fact of the matter is, this government has increased cultural and arts funding," Mr. Harper said in his first comments on arts funding since Canwest News Service first reported news of the cuts earlier this month. "The opposition has a view that you can never cut any single program ever. We have a responsibility to make sure the spending that we're doing is effective and that involves analysing every program and making sure we spend where we're getting the best results."
Earlier this year, Parliament approved total spending on cultural programs, such as the CBC and the Canada Arts Council, of more than $4 billion. That's about 19 per cent more than the Liberals spent in their last year in office in 2005-2006.
Critics of the Conservatives, though, say a large proportion of that spending is for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the celebration of Quebec City's 400th anniversary.
MPs at a special meeting of the opposition-dominated heritage committee agreed to summon Heritage Minister Josée Verner, Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson and representatives of the arts community to testify about the rationale for the cuts and their impact. They set a tentative date of next Tuesday for a hearing.
Liberal, Bloc Québécois and New Democratic MPs used strong language to denounce the cuts as shameful, shameless, savage, arbitrary, wrong-headed, devastating and a possible abuse of executive power. They accused the government of making the decisions in secret when public consultations and the voice of Parliament were warranted.
"This is not the kind of Canada we want to live in," said Liberal arts critic Denis Coderre, citing the axing of one program because a "radical" was among recipients.
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro defended the government's actions, saying it is committed to arts and culture, but "must be able to make adjustments" and that the savings would be reallocated to other unspecified programs.
Many arts groups have decried the cuts as shortsighted.
"By definition, the creation of wealth requires exports, and in light of the competition from the U.S.A., Britain and others, Canada's governments must support the export of cultural goods and services in order to build positive trading balances in these areas and net gains for Canada," said Duncan McKie, president of the Canadian Independent Record Production Association. "An export strategy has the potential for huge dividends, and if the current programs don't produce, we should be hard at work building new ones, not trashing those who received support."
Mr. Harper's comments came on the same day that the Conference Board of Canada, an independent think-tank, released a study in which it said more than a million Canadians owe their livelihood to Canada's cultural sector. The study, which the Conference Board said was the most comprehensive look at the economic impact of the arts in Canada, estimated that cultural industries accounted for $84.6 billion in economic activity in 2007, or about 7.4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
"Countries around the world, as well as many cities and regions, recognize that a dynamic culture sector plays a key role as a magnet for talent, enhances economic output and acts as a catalyst for prosperity," said Michael Bloom, a Conference Board vice-president.
© Ottawa Citizen