Ever since the current government made their staggering cuts to arts funding, Stephen Harper has claimed that the Conservatives spend more on the arts than the Liberals did. “Really?,” everyone asked. “Sure,” said Harper, “I even have my grade 9 in piano!”
The problem with making those kind of claims is that it’s really hard to know for sure. Thanks to a soon-to-be published report from the Canadian Conference of the Arts (and some excellent journalism by James Bradshaw at the Globe and Mail) we now know for sure that Stephen Harper is a big fat liar. About the funding, that is; I have heard nothing about his skill as a pianist.
Anyway, so the reason Harper is a liar is because he said that the Cons spent more on arts funding than the Libs. If he had said they spent more on culture funding than the Libs, he might have gotten a pass—though Bradshaw points out that the Cons are taking undue credit for a large boost to culture funding that occured in their first year in power, fiscally speaking.
“Culture” is the responsibility of the Department of Canadian Heritage. It includes things that you and I would consider to be arts (visual art, music, film, television, radio, dance, etc.) and some things that fall better into the vague category of culture (sports, national identity building, official language initiatives). The former category is called SO1 and the latter SO2.
The report shows that since 2006-07, funding for SO1 has fallen from $817-million to $759-million. However, funding for SO2 increased from $567.7-million in 2006-07 to $631.6-million in 2008-09. And that’s not even including the $45-million from the recently axed SO1 programs (see list here) that is being shifted to SO2 programs (like the Olympics). So there you have it: arts funding is not increasing under a Conservative government. It is decreasing dramatically.
“Such a revelation certainly hints at a targeted approach to arts cuts, which would contradict the government’s assertions that programs were axed based on simple efficiency reviews – and without ideological motivation,” says Bradshaw. Targeted indeed. The Cons have have been openly hostile toward the arts and artists, ever since they circulated a memo that denounced “wealthy celebrities”, “fringe arts groups” and “highly ideological individuals” with “agendas” who inflict “offensive material” on the decent Canadian public. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, playwright-director Wajdi Mouawad says that Harper has symbolically “declared war on the artists”:
Your silence and your actions make one fear the worst for, in the end, we are quite struck by the belief that this contempt, made eloquent by your budget cuts, is very real and that you feel nothing but disgust for these people, these artists, who spend their time by wasting it and in spending the good taxpayers money, he who, rather than doing uplifting work, can only toil.
And so the harsh charictarization of the arts by the Conservative government continues. It’s arts vs. culture; SO1 vs. SO2; lazy, condescending artists vs. salt-of-the-earth taxpayers; offensive material vs. uplifting material; city-dwellers vs. everyone else; shiraz vs. Lucky lager.
It’s obvious to anyone but the teetotallers that sometimes you like to throw back a cold one and sometimes you like to shop in the LCBO Vintages section. Too many cold ones makes you stupid, and too many bottles of Bordeaux make you broke. The important thing is finding a balance, and Stephen Harper wants to throw a kegger.
I am bad at metaphors.
X-posted to Say It With Pie.