What do the Conservatives have against arts and culture?
Too many naughty words, maybe?
That was the suspicion behind Bill C-10, which gave give the Heritage Minister the power to deny tax credits retroactively to films or television shows that are “contrary to public policy.” The film “Young People Fucking” was said to be the impetus for it—or rather, the title of the film was, as few had (or have) actually seen this movie. (My favorite quip in response was that if we’re just judging by title, we better ban Dirty Dancing and see something wholesome like Last Tango in Paris.) What was said to be especially chilling was its “retroactive” nature—since hard-won federal grants could be withdrawn, no one would have the confidence to go ahead with any movie projects.
Given how much attention the Bill eventually got, it’s easy to forget now that the Conservatives snuck it into “a lengthy omnibus bill of technical changes to tax law” — where, for an alarmingly long time, no one noticed it.
And it wasn’t exactly the first time they’d tried something like this. In 2006, a $4.6 million reduction in spending on Canadian museums was buried in a much larger announcement. “The news was a shock to the museum community and particularly the Canadian Museums Association, which thought it had an agreement with the Heritage Ministry for a new museums policy that would be more generous with all museums and provide stable funding.”
Then this summer? When the House wasn’t sitting, when you were on vacation, when arts groups were gearing up their programs for the fall? First up was the $13.7 million cut to programs that support artists’ travel. Then the motherlode — $44.8 million in cuts to five arts programs. With promises of more to come.
Now, there may be defendable reasons for these cuts. Maybe the programs were inefficient. Maybe they were outdated. Maybe they were just great, but were frankly sacrificed on the altar of the stupid GST tax cut and an interest in preventing the deficit from getting any bigger.
We just don’t know. Because the Conservatives haven’t bothered to tell us. They didn’t let it go through debate in Parliament, they didn’t hold a press conference on it, they didn’t consult any experts in the field, they didn’t warn anyone whose livelihood was about to be damaged. They just cut it. Surprise!
“The government has departed from its usual consultative process and cut these programs without warning,” said Stephen Ellis, a board member and former chair of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association and president of Toronto-based Ellis Entertainment Group, an independent TV production company.”
Of course, they are campaigning now, so it’s a little harder to avoid the questions. But just a little. In the Globe and Mail this weekend, Harper mumbled something about these being programs “Canadians don’t want” (when did we say that?), while the Heritage Minister told a CBC reporter they would be redeployed to other areas, though she couldn’t say to what, ran away when pressed, and refused to be interviewed formally on the subject.
That’s the best these spin doctors can do? Wow, now I’m comforted that these cuts were so very well-thought and won’t harm this very important sector of our economy one bit. Aren’t you?