Earlier this year, on February 11th, the Harper Government released its latest budget. That same day, the Canadian Arts Coalition, a “united national movement of artists, cultural workers, business leaders and volunteers” released a statement applauding the Harper Government for “renewing key programs” within the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Who is this “Canadian Arts Coalition?” A number of people asked that very question when their statement was published in part in the Ottawa Citizen’s arts blog.
The CAC was initially formed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council for the Arts, and is made up of mainly umbrella and service organizations like the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, The Canadian Network of Dance Presenters, The Association of Canadian Publishers, and several others. Their stated short-term, non-partisan goals are very simple:
1) To ask the government to renew investments that were announced in 2009;
2) and to ask the government to maintain Canada Council funding levels.
They go on to say that they also hope consideration will be given to increase those funding levels should “circumstances permit”.
Some people in the arts community rightly pointed out that, if these are the goals of this organization, then perhaps the organization is right to applaud a budget that does indeed maintain those levels of funding.
However, it prompted me to ask: are these worthy goals for an arts service organization? And, more generally, are these worthy goals within a national picture that includes some of the worst attacks on democracy we’ve seen in recent decades, a horrendous environmental record, a “tough on crime” agenda that has even the southern United States balking, and let’s not forget the legacy of the G20, which resulted in what the Ontario Ombudsman called “the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history”? No inquiry to follow.
It also made some of us in the community wonder about another arts advocacy organization that had recently closed its doors after funding was cut by Heritage Canada. The Canada Conference of the Arts (CCA) had been warned by the department that the federal government should not be funding a lobbying organization. In agreement, CCA requested 2 years of bridge funding during which they would transition to a self-sustaining funding model. This bridge funding did not come through, and after more than 65 years of service to its members, including research, creation and dissemination of important and influential reports and publications, CCA was forced to shut down operations.
It is difficult not to notice a key difference between these two advocacy organizations: one which applauds the government for simply maintaining funding levels, and another that, while known for being non-partisan, is also willing to take the government to task for what they considered to be bad policies, like the proposed copyright legislation in 2011.
While the funding for the Canadian Arts Coalition isn’t clear, their website points visitors to “Magazines Canada”, one of their member organizations, for donations. A visit to Magazines Canada’s website tells me that they consider themselves to be “the country’s most powerful industry association, working closely with all levels of government to ensure the interests of Canada’s magazines are supported and protected”. Worth noting is that they currently receive funding from Heritage Canada.
I’m sure that advocacy is only one element of Magazines Canada’s activities, but I believe the same could also be said for the Canadian Conference of the Arts. The CCA, however, according to National director Alain Pineau, believes in “evidence-based decision making” and they “try to contribute to public debate”. They no longer exist.
There is much to debate.
The Fair Elections Act is only the most recent in a long list of major issues (electoral fraud, cuts to CBC, loss of the long-form census, treatment of First Nations, F-35 jets, Senate scandals, muzzling of Canadian artists and scientists, the end of the Canada Health Accord etc.) that have come up over the years – issues that deserve our attention, and issues that make any kind of applause for this government laughable, and incredibly distasteful.
I remember a conversation I had 10 years ago, with an older family friend who I considered to be progressive in most respects. He told me he was planning to vote Conservative in an upcoming provincial election. I was surprised, given what I knew of his political beliefs. He was voting Conservative because of one element of their electoral platform that would be of financial benefit to his business.
My priorities as a citizen in a society far outweigh my priorities as a cultural worker. I cannot simply support a government for maintaining funding to programs I might access, while that government simultaneously dismantles major institutions, policies and programs that are vital to this country’s democratic, financial, environmental and cultural well-being.
This government doesn’t represent me, and the Canadian Arts Coalition certainly doesn’t applaud this government on my behalf.