Platform Primer: Arts and Culture
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Platform Primer: Arts and Culture

In the run-up to the federal election on May 2, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.

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Each party’s key messages, according their respective colours. Image by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.


With the country still meandering out of recession and most people more interested in jobs than Junos, Genies, and Geminis, politicos aren’t focusing on the arts as a key issue. However, they know that creative types are not just annoyingly prone to voting, but to jumping onto their Twitter machines to complain when the Feds cut their allowance money, so it’s a good idea to throw them a bone at poll time. Here’s what the parties are promising…

Conservatives

The Tories have stuck “Arts & Culture” in the “Here to Stand on Guard for Canada” section of their platform document, so it’s possible that the easel and Underwood crowd may eventually be asked to take up arms against paint-spattered foreigners coming over to kidnap Margaret Atwood and David Cronenberg. And just so you know that the Tories are open-minded, the first thing noted is that arts and culture “contributed $46 billion to the Canadian economy and support more than 630,000 jobs,” and are not just a huge waste of money for fancyboys and downtown hipsters.
There follows a list of cultural activities that the Tories have supported since they’ve been in power, including inaugurating the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. They’ve also bumped up funding for the Canada Council for the Arts by 20 per cent since they first formed a government in 2006. (They don’t mention the huge outrage back in 2008 when the Tories cut $45 million in arts funding and Stephen Harper subsequently suggested that average Canadians couldn’t relate to rich, gala-attending celebrities whining about subsidies.)
That said, beyond past glories and maintaining the status quo, what would the Conservatives do for Canada’s cultural sector going forward? In the pre-election budget, they made several commitments, including $25 million over five years for Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, $15 million a year for the the Canadian Periodical Fund, and $7.5 million to the Royal Conservatory of Music for a national examination system in partnership with Carnegie Hall. They’re also promising a Children’s Arts Tax Credit, which would apply up to $500 per child in qualifying expenses for eligible arts or cultural activities. None of this is earth-shaking, but it’s not a kick in the face either.
At the end of the day, the Conservatives haven’t really earned the “Huns in the gallery” rep with which they’ve often been tarred on this particular file. Stephen Harper may not turn up at your next gallery opening, but he’s canny enough to know that the arts are important to many Canadians and a real contributor to the economy/

Liberals

The Liberals give even more credit than the Tories to arts and culture, referencing a Conference Board study which says that culture generates more than $80 billion in economic benefits every year and “creates 1.1 million jobs” (the latter statement is improbable since the Canadian economy only created around 347,000 jobs total in 2010, so let’s interpret it to mean “accounts for” rather than “creates”).
The Liberals love the CBC, particularly in its French incarnation Radio-Canada, and commit to “stable and predictable funding,” which would be a relief after major recession-induced cuts in 2009.
More spectacularly, the Libs are promising to put Tory efforts on the Canada Council to shame by doubling annual support from $180 million to $360 million over the next four years.
They’ll also restore the ProMart and Trade Routes programs cut by the Tories in 2008, promising to put $25 million into those programs, which send Canadian artists overseas as cultural ambassadors. Part of the money would also go into a new program for domestic tours. (Are you listening, April Wine?)
All in all, a pretty good deal for artists and consistent with the “kinder-and-gentler-than-the-Tories-but-still-economically-pragmatic” brand that the Grits are pitching.

NDP

In best populist style, the New Democrat platform has a strong focus on defending Canadian culture from foreign influence. They propose to maintain strong regulation on foreign ownership of Canadian media, and to “refocus the mandate of the CRTC to promote and protect Canadian cultural industries”. They’d also make broadcaster licenses dependent on more stringent standards around the airing of Canadian programming.
Besides standing on guard, the NDP line up with the Grits on increasing Canada Council funding (amount TBD), keeping the CBC fully funded, and bringing back a program to ship Canadian riverdancers and bar bands out of the country. Additionally, they’ll look at tax incentives towards the restoration and preservation of historic buildings.
As ever, the NDP mean well. The utility of protecting Canadian culture via legislation is, however, debatable in an online world where cultural borders are ever more porous. Moreover, without dollar figures behind them, it’s hard to know how financially plausible the NDP arts and culture promises are, but they won’t be cheap.

Green Party

The Greens feel strongly about culture, and start off their platform discussion by editorializing: “We live in times of increasing utility and growing ugliness. Strip malls, parking lots, urban littered and graffiti-ed streets do not ennoble us as a people.” They also support the arts with the breathless enthusiasm of people who will not achieve power and hence will not have to live up to their promises.
The Greens have yet to meet a Canadian cultural institution they don’t want to give cash to, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the CBC, the National Film Board, and Telefilm Canada. Like the Liberals and NDP, they’ll ante up to send Canadian artists abroad and they’ll institute a program “where outstanding individual artists are supported to perfect their crafts.” (Yes please!) They’ll also provide greater funding to community arts groups, provide new tax breaks for artists, encourage artists to immigrate to Canada, and enact legislation to require theatres and video chains to offer a minimum of 20 per cent Canadian content.
You have to give the Greens credit for putting so much time and thought into this, and the initiatives are, by and large, admirable. However, in the unlikely event of a Green government, the rubber would hit the road when the time came to figure out how to pay for it all.

The Upshot

As a minority government, Stephen Harper’s crew haven’t been catastrophic for arts and culture. However, if they found themselves in majority territory it could be a different story, especially when you consider that eliminating Canada Council subsidies would buy almost half of an F-35 fighter jet. The Liberals are fond of art and will put more of your tax money back into the poor old CBC, as well as upping Canada Council dollars so that artists and writers can bring their laptops to Starbucks instead of working out of their garrets, where rats keep chewing through the power cords. The NDP are similar but more cagey on cost, and incorporate a somewhat anachronistic regulatory component designed to help Canadians resist the corrupting influence of Fast & Furious movies (unless directed by Sarah Polley). The Greens, God bless ’em, want to build a beautiful world and will roll the dice on just about anything in order to get there.

For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto. For all the details on their policy plans, also check out the platforms of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party.

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