Public Support For Arts And Culture (May 2007)

Canadians are well ahead of our current leadership in recognizing that vibrant artistic sectors and cultural industries are essential elements of both a sustainable social economy and our Canadian identity.

Canadians are well ahead of our current leadership in recognizing that vibrant artistic sectors and cultural industries are essential elements of both a sustainable social economy and our Canadian identity. Our cultural institutions and achievements are among the most important assets uniting us as a people, enabling us to tell our own stories. Stories that reflect the remarkable diversity of our nation are vital. Canadian artists, actors, musicians, dancers, authors, playwrights, rank among the best in the world.  Ensuring that our cultural sector is supported is essential to our quality of life as well as being of considerable economic importance.

Canadian consumers spent $25.1 billion on cultural goods and services in 2005, an amount that is 5% higher than the combined consumer spending on household furniture, appliances and tools ($24.0 billion). The $25.1 billion in consumer spending is over three times larger than the $7.7 billion spent on culture in Canada by all levels of government in 2003/04.  In addition, the consumer spending figure would be much higher if we account for all the subsidiary industries that directly rely on the direct cultural spending, especially restaurants, transportation, hotels, and tourism generally.

The Harper government rejects the national importance of arts and culture.  Harper has placed our arts and cultural communities under siege.  Essential long term funding for the Canada Council, CBC, our museums, cultural spaces and heritage facilities that require improvement and repair, will not be forthcoming and even current funding is at serious risk.

In September, the Harper government cut all the funds ($11.8 million) available for the promotion of the work of Canadian artists abroad by Canada’s embassies, a very important service that benefits not only the artists themselves but all Canadians collectively.  International promotion helps build international audiences, and allows Canada to increase its creative presence on the international stage with commensurate benefits to our economy at home.  The well-earned international recognition of so many Canadians involved in arts and culture abroad reflects extremely well on Canada and Canada’s international reputation in our very challenging global environment.

The latest Harper budget confirms that the government is ignoring the importance of arts and culture. The Harper budget, for example, provides for small investments in eligible performing and visual arts events ($30 million), but it is delivered through the Building Canada Fund, such that cultural groups will have to compete with public transit and sewage treatment infrastructure projects for their grants.  This is totally unacceptable.

At the very least, we must follow through with the increase in support for the arts set out in the 2005 platform of the Liberal Party, including the proposal to double funding for the Canadian Council for the Arts by the year 2008.   This includes the funding of $860 million over five years for the Tomorrow Starts Today initiative, which promotes excellence in the arts.  Stable funding for such important vehicles of support for our arts and cultural communities should not be in question.

The time is long overdue for our national government to expressly acknowledge that a vibrant Canadian society and economy depends on vibrant arts and cultural communities. Our national government must also make an unequivocal commitment to adequate investment in arts and culture, and establish a stable, comprehensive framework for national support for the wide range of cultural agencies, programs, initiatives as well as for the individual artists themselves.

The tax treatment of artists, creators and other arts professionals needs comprehensive review.  This should lead to the establishment of a 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.  The province of Ontario has taken some initial steps in this direction with mixed success.

National regulation and support must stay ahead of the curve in this fast-moving, constantly evolving digital universe dealing with complex issues such as copyright protection on the internet.

In addition, the vital role of the CBC in Canadian public life needs to be acknowledged once and for all.  We must resist any attempt to erode, piece by piece, the special character of the CBC as a public broadcaster, through notions of “commercialization.”   We must find new ways that the CBC can harness technological developments and exploit the incredible diversity and wealth of Canadian talent – specialty channels and services, and perhaps a further move into the international arena, where there is huge demand today for alternatives to Hollywood-style products.  Such initiatives not only hold the promise of offering to more and more people, in Canada and around the world, our excellent cultural products – they also hold the promise of significant revenue generation.

Yet it is incredible that, in 2007, we have still not settled once and for all the provision of adequate stable long-term funding for the CBC.  The huge expansion of broadcasting over the internet, for example, has had to be funded based on revenue models designed for another age. Knowledgeable observers estimate that a 20% increase in funding may be needed to reinforce the CBCs role as Canada’s distinctive voice.  A more stable ten-year funding mandate is preferable to the current year-to-year allocation.  Cable companies must continue to be required to carry all existing and new CBC channels on the first tier.

At the same time, the CBC must 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, according to an approved set of qualifications relating to arts, culture, journalism and broadcasting, thereby accountable to the people of Canada through Parliament.

We also need to review the way in which Canadian content is defined in cultural regulations and policies, to ensure the promotion of excellence.  The CRTCs 1999 Television Policy allows reality TV shows to qualify as Canadian content and, together with the elimination of drama content requirements for private broadcasters, has resulted in a dramatic decline in first-class Canadian drama production for both television and film. Private broadcasters now spend five times more on U.S. drama production than on Canadian drama production.  The CRTC policies and regulations must be changed to promote Canadian drama, just as in 1970 new regulations mandating 30% Canadian content for radio resulted in a huge boost to our music industry.   In addition, the Canadian Television Fund needs more substantial and stable funding for drama production and the ratio of priority program funding should increase to at least 8 prime time hours a week.

We must also review carefully the implications of what many say is the inevitable consolidation taking place within the broadcasting and related industries.  For example, the proposed acquisition of CHUM radio and television stations by CTVgm raises significant cross-ownership issues. Following the acquisition,  CTVgm will have cross-media ownership of 33 radio stations, 26 television stations as well as ASN satellite television service production companies, music publishers, Canada’s largest national daily newspaper (the Globe& Mail) and magazines.  One negative impact is that substantially less Canadian priority television programming will be available on the Canadian broadcasting system.  This is because the cross-ownership permits simple duplication of existing priority programming outside a given week.  So, priority programming aired on the Citytv stations can simply duplicate that aired on CTV stations.

Finally, we must insist that our trade negotiators protect our cultural sovereignty in negotiations at the World Trade Organization and in other regional negotiations.  Any new wording in trade treaties must be reviewed extremely carefully, to ensure clear and unambiguous provision for the security of our cultural industries and national cultural life.  Canada was recently in the forefront the negotiations of 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.

Bold national leadership is long overdue to ensure that our federal government speaks strongly for all Canadians and plays a vital role in supporting arts and culture in Canada. This vital role does NOT include providing some $30 million funds furtively to MPs to distribute to their favourite arts and cultural activities in their ridings.  We have to insist that our elected MPs exercise power in trust for the Canadian people, not to promote their individual political careers.  Substantial support is needed for the arts and culture in Canada, but must be provided according to objective criteria, untainted by political whim.