Source : Ottawa Citizen
Heritage minister ‘talks a good line but hasn’t delivered’
by Chris Cobb
Accusing fingers are being pointed at Heritage Minister Sheila Copps for her department’s failure to get any significant funding for culture in Finance Minister Paul Martin’s budget on Monday.
“She has been an unmitigated disaster,” said Ian Morrison, spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. “She talks a good line but hasn’t delivered in terms of substance. That’s why the prime minister put her in the job.
Culture is such a low priority for Mr. Chrétien, he wanted someone who can talk well but has no power to act.”
Mr. Morrison, especially angry at the lack of federal initiatives to support public broadcasting, said Mr. Martin has been “notably successful at keeping the word culture out of the budget.”
Mr. Martin did find $10 million for the Canada Council and promised to spend $75 million over the next four years for Canadian content on the Internet. Most of the money will go to creating a virtual museum from words and images from Canada’s museums.
There was no mention of money for a new Canadian War Museum to replace the dilapidated building on Sussex Drive – although rumours persist the government intends to contribute toward one. Nor was there a commitment of new money for film and video production or any mention of the CBC.
Ms. Copps, who suffered an embarrassing defeat least year when the government ditched her legislation to protect Canadian magazines from U.S. competition, is said to have little influence inside the federal cabinet and is finding it increasingly difficult to get agreement for any of her initiatives. She is also in a portfolio that can be ignored by the government without any immediate political fallout.
University of Calgary professor David Taras, a critic of federal cultural policy, agrees culture is a low priority for government, but says the need for cultural spending has never been greater.
“Canadian culture is under more pressure than it has ever been,” he said. “We are seeing a tremendous globalization of culture and an integration of national culture and an integration of national cultures throughout the world. How does Canadian culture survive the avalanche? It’s a matter of survival, but I don’t think the federal government even understands the question.”
Mr. Taras says Ms. Copps has been a disappointment at a time when strong leadership in the Canadian Heritage portfolio is especially needed.
“She isn’t a person with a strong, coherent vision that can win battles in cabinet,” he said. “She makes the right noises, but when push comes to shove, she’s the one who gets shoved.”
Some observers say the government’s apparent disinterest in culture is related to the diminishing threat of Quebec separation.
That, coupled with an apparent unwillingness by Ms. Copps’s cabinet colleagues to give her the benefit of the doubt, have presented her with an uphill battle.
Pierre Juneau, the former CBC president and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chairman, declined to comment on Ms. Copps’s performance as minister, but agreed the threat of separation is a factor in government thinking.
“It’s true that the appetite for separatism is waning,” said Mr. Juneau, “but the fact remains that a lot of work needs to be done to reconcile many Quebecers to Canada. You can’t do it with flags or publicity or anything that smells of propaganda….It’s not just a question of money, but a matter of showing by your words and attitudes that you care. Culture is a vital part of achieving that.
“Federalists have a big problem here,” he said. “We can win a referendum, or defeat the idea of a referendum with good politics, but we’ve eventually got to find a way to make French-speaking Canadians involved in Canada and feeling part of it.”
Reform’s Heritage critic, Inky Mark, said it was wrong for Mr. Martin to give money to the Canada Council while ignoring important cultural symbols such as the Canadian War Museum and the Snowbirds flying formation team, which is threatened with extinction. “This government doesn’t seem to have a clue what Canadian culture is,” said Mr. Mark, “and what we do have, it doesn’t protect.”
Mr. Morrison says the Heritage job is tough, but it could be done better.
“If the prime minister put someone of influence in the job,” he said, “that minister would still be swimming upstream, but at least there would be a voice at the cabinet table.”
Ms. Copps’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
© Ottawa Citizen