Policy Monday is a weekly feature during the lead-up to the provincial election where Torontoist will dive into the mean and gritty world of public policy, turning a critical eye at a specific area of the policies and machinations of the four major provincial parties.
Photo by avp17 from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
When stressing the need for government funding for the arts in our city, a great man once said that “in any venture where government funds the arts, there must and will be waste.” Many would contest this statement, as Torontonians tend to be rather protective of local art and culture. While some would want any government funding to be as frugal as possible, many would agree that arts and culture need some sort of protection—we’re all a little afraid of the looming spectre of American cultural influence.
Arts and culture tends to be a rather low-key issue in provincial elections outside of Quebec. Voters often only care about a specific issue within the sphere of arts and culture policy—such as when a cultural landmark is being threatened. Its policy is largely ignored during elections, yet it’s the policy that’s going to determine how artists are funded, how cultural landmarks are preserved, and how difficult it is for Smart!Centres to move into your old Toronto neighbourhood. After a bit of digging, here’s how each party will treat our art.
While the Liberals’ official big-issues platform is devoid of any arts and culture-related policy, the Liberals want the art-minded to know that they’ve had a good track record. During their tenure, they’ve boosted funding to various tax credits and arts funds that help out our cultural industries, which is always a good thing.
The Liberals have also pledged to increase the budget of our two main arts-funding councils—the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. While more cash is always needed, the board of directors of both are lacking in artists and are instead made up of marketers and bureaucrats. Earlier this year the Liberals set up an Advisory Council for Arts and Culture that consulted with artists to find out how they would improve government arts programs, but the Advisory Council hasn’t given much advice to any of the grant-givers as of yet.
The Tories have a pretty substantial plan for arts and culture, which is a refreshing change from McGuinty’s solution of throwing money at it. Some of their ideas are pretty brilliant—they want to help out our local film industry by it giving up to 50% of provincial film and media tax credits in advance. Our film industry could use the extra help, particularly in our fair city, where American productions will continue to come in with more money and be able to pay local film industry workers more than Canadian productions can. In the realm of individual taxing, the Tories are hoping that the federal government implements income averaging in a future budget, otherwise they say they will figure out a credit plan to help artists deal with their unique income situation. Lack of a concrete backup policy is likely a bit disheartening to artists who don’t have much faith in the federal government.
They’ve also got a great idea to increase youth consumption of this province’s arts—setting up a “youth passport” program that would allow people under twenty to get into any Ontario-run cultural institution, like the ROM or the AGO. John Tory also wants to hook up impoverished youth in urban centres with free tickets to cultural events. More kids should be able to go to the opera, especially in that purdy new building of theirs.
A couple Tory policies are simply out of left field. They want to remove all advertising from the LCBO’s amazing Food and Drink magazine. They say that this would help out our magazine industry, since they view Food and Drink as an unfair competitor in the market, holding a government monopoly. On the one hand, they do have a point—other magazines could use the advertising. On the other, this would take away a lot of funding from an excellent culinary magazine, funding that the Tories won’t be making up. We likes us our tasty recipes.
Despite this and a few other wacky promises (such as a $2 million plan to commemorate the War of 1812), the Tories have the decency to promise to maintain existing (Liberal) funding commitments to the OAC. That’s pretty spiffy.
The Green Party of Ontario doesn’t have much in the way of arts and culture policy. What’s there is pretty vague. The Greens say they will support cultural centres and increase access to “theatres, galleries, museum, music, and community events.” This could mean just about anything. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do want to support arts and culture in whatever way they can. At the very least, they should be pushing for increased government support of our film industry—if the election goes sour, the party can always open up an in-house film department, creating hilarious shorts.
The Ontario NDP have less to say about arts and culture policy than even the Greens. Hampton is trying to have a campaign striptease, and his party still doesn’t have a central platform. That means that we have next to no idea where Hampton and his fellow orange-folks stand on the issue of our arts and culture. Less than a month before the election. Nice.
Middle photo by Torontochub27. Bottom photo by Squeakyrat. Both from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.