Pack up the paints

By Nicole Dionne

Often in Canadian politics, culture and arts takes a back seat to other issues. However, recent cuts to funding have caused a great deal of indignation in the Canadian arts community and has pushed the question of fiscal support of culture to the front of the debate this election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has minimized the issue and called it a fringe topic that does not affect the average Canadian.

“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people,” Harper told the National Post, Oct. 6.

Such comments have opened Harper to a lot of criticism from both the arts community and local party candidates. Activists and artists alike have pointed out the unrealistic light that Harper has portrayed the arts community in.

“The reality is that ordinary people are actively engaged in the sector, so to characterize it as an elitist thing is misleading,” said Calgary Arts Development president and CEO Terry Rock. Rock also pointed out that the average salary of an artist in Calgary in 2006 was under $20,000.

Kirk Schmidt, an independent candidate running in Calgary-West, pointed out that Harper’s depiction of the arts community also belittles the major economic role the cultural sector plays in Canada’s economy.

“The Conference Board of Canada [a private think-tank] estimated that the economic footprint of Canada’s culture sector was about $84.6 billion and it creates about 1.1 million jobs so there’s a lot that goes back to the economy which essentially goes back into the tax system and into the GDP,” said Schmidt. “Establishing money for the arts is important for not just the arts and culture sector, it’s actually important for the economy as a whole.”

Calgary-West Green Party candidate Randy Weeks agreed that the cultural sector is an important economic component, but also pointed out that there was more to the issue than just purely financial concerns.

“There is a strong factor on how fair and enjoyable the society is and so the arts is a huge part of it,” said Weeks. He added his party would not be interested in raising personal income taxes to fund the arts, but that much of the funding for programs would come from revenue gained from the implementation of taxes for carbon emissions and other pollutants.

Along with reinstating the funding that has been cut, the Liberal Party proposes to help artists deal with the fluctuating nature of the sector by changing the tax structure to allow artists to average income over time.

“The idea is that by income averaging, artists would be able to keep more of their money for themselves that they need to support themselves in other years,” said Calgary-West Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock.

Ultimately, Harper’s attempt at making a populist argument for the funding cuts may have backfired and made him seem out of touch with the actual issues, said Calgary-West Marxist-Leninist candidate Andre Vachon.

“Culture is part of life in Canada and I think the prime minister’s comments only demonstrate how uncultured the man is,” said Vachon. “The artists in Canada are suffering. They are also subject to the limitations of private enterprise and that’s not acceptable either. There should be massive funding of the arts in Canada.”

Calgary-West-New Democratic Party candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff said his party plans to increase arts funding by $125 million.

“Harper is a leader,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “He is for change, but it’s not the change that works for this country, it’s not the change that works for Canadians.”

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