(Policy papers 2012-2013)
A nation relies on its artists to tell its own story and shape its identity. Canadians are enthusiastic readers, listeners, and viewers, but we recognize — more than our current leadership — that our culture also needs public support to thrive. Arts organizations, especially the Canada Council and the CBC, require steady, predictable federal funding. Many Canadian artists have international followings, but assistance is still needed to give local talent a fair chance against global competitors. Ensuring that our cultural sector remains vibrant is essential to our quality of life and delivers economic benefits as an encore.
Une nation dépend de ses artistes pour raconter son histoire et façonner son identité. Les Canadiens sont des lecteurs, des auditeurs et des spectateurs enthousiastes, mais nous admettons – plus que notre leadership actuel – que notre culture a aussi besoin du soutien public pour prospérer. Les organisations artistiques, en particulier le Conseil des Arts du Canada et CBC ont besoin de financements fédéraux constants et réguliers. De nombreux artistes canadiens sont connus internationalement, mais il faut encore aider les talents locaux à avoir une chance face aux concurrents internationaux. S’assurer que notre secteur culturel reste dynamique est essentiel pour notre qualité de vie et a, en plus, des avantages économiques.
Canadian consumers spent $27.4 billion on cultural goods and services in 2008, representing $841 for every Canadian resident. Consumer spending was three times greater than the $9.2 billion spent on culture in Canada by all levels of government in 2007-08. The total consumer outlay would be even higher if it included the money that goes to subsidiary industries that rely on cultural spending, such as hospitality, tourism, and transportation.
But the Conservative government has long downplayed the national importance of arts and culture. The prime minister placed the arts and cultural communities under siege even before the current austerity drive. In 2007, his government cut all funds for the promotion of the work of Canadian artists abroad by Canada’s embassies, a valuable service not only for the artists but for all Canadians. International promotion helps build audiences, allows Canada to increase its creative presence on the world stage, delivers benefits to our economy at home, and boosts Canada’s global reputation.
Successive Conservative budgets continued to minimize the value of arts and culture. For example, in the early years of minority Conservative governments, provision was made for small investments in eligible performing and visual arts facilities ($30 million), but they were delivered through the Building Canada Fund, so that cultural groups had to compete with public transit and sewage treatment infrastructure projects for their grants.
Essential long-term funding for organizations, cultural spaces, and heritage properties is not a priority, and even current funding is at serious risk. Most recently, the 2012 budget of the majority Conservative government cut a brutal $115 million off CBC and Radio-Canada, $6.7 million off the National Film Board, and $10.6 million off Telefilm.
Our national leadership should expressly acknowledge that the distinctive Canadian identity and a large segment of our economy depend on vibrant arts and cultural communities. It should also make an unequivocal commitment to adequate investments in arts and culture, and it must establish a stable, comprehensive framework for national support for the wide range of cultural agencies, programs, and initiatives as well as for individual artists. Reliable funding for significant broad-based institutions such as the Canada Council for the Arts should not be in question. (It was spared from across-the-board cuts in 2012.)
The national regulator of broadcasting and telecommunications — the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) — also faces challenges in protecting the public interest. The major players, notably BCE and Rogers, increasingly control both the creation and the distribution of content, as well as the screens and bandwidths that consumers watch and use to connect with the world. BCE and Rogers even combined forces to buy control of the three major Toronto sports teams in order to lock up the television rights for hockey, basketball, and soccer for their channels. Consumer choice may be diminished if big business always gets its way.
Arts and culture are a public good. They bridge Canadians’ experiences and help to build a common public sphere. For example, CBC Radio’s Afghanada series connected Canadians to the on-the-ground experiences of our troops in Afghanistan and made the mission more real for us. These kinds of programs will not be possible if federal neglect continues.
In fact, the vital role of the CBC in Canadian public life is particularly important for the federal government to support. Cable companies must continue to be required to carry all existing and new CBC channels on the first tier. Most of all, the CBC needs adequate stable funding with a 10-year mandate. Canadians must resist any attempt to erode the special character of the CBC as a public broadcaster, piece by piece, through “commercialization.” The CBC is applying to its regulator for permission to open up Radio 2 and the French-language Espace Musique stations to advertisements and sponsorship for the first time since 1974.
The CBC can harness technological developments such as Internet broadcasting and exploit the diversity and wealth of Canadian talent. It could develop specialty channels and services, and sell more into the international market, where there is huge demand today for alternatives to Hollywood-style products. Such initiatives would not only offer our excellent cultural products to more people, in Canada and around the world; they also hold the promise of significant revenue generation.
At the same time, the CBC should be restructured to require that the president and CEO of the CBC be answerable to the CBC board, not the prime minister. The board of directors, including the chairperson, could be appointed by an all-party parliamentary committee, thereby accountable to the people of Canada through Parliament.
The government should also nurture Canadian arts and culture more broadly. The tax treatment of arts professionals needs comprehensive review. They could benefit from specific tax status for professional artists, more equitable tax treatment for independent contractors with such initiatives as income averaging and exemption of grants from federal taxation, and additional assistance to artists paying off student loans. Ontario has taken some steps in this direction with mixed success.
Our trade negotiators have a duty to guard our cultural sovereignty in negotiations at the World Trade Organization and in regional forums. Any new wording in trade treaties must be studied carefully, so that our cultural industries and national cultural life are clearly and unambiguously defended. Canada was once in the forefront of the negotiations for the International Convention on Cultural Diversity. Indeed, the Canadian government was the first in the world to ratify this Convention. Now we must insist that trade negotiations and tribunals interpreting existing trade rules fully respect the protections in the Convention.
Canadian artists, actors, musicians, dancers, authors, and playwrights, rank among the best in the world. In supporting them, our federal government strengthens the voice of Canada at home and abroad.