Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Victoria to address the non-prorogued BC Legislative Assembly. While there, you’d think he might have pulled BC Premier Gordon Campbell aside and told him the story of how Harper’s Conservatives lost their majority, in no small part, thanks to their short-sighted decision in the last election to gut funding for the arts.
Harper has somewhat learned his lesson; the feds have restored much of the funding or increased it in other areas, and Canadian Heritage minister James Moore has found the arts religion. Sadly, though, Campbell must not read the news, as his BC “Liberal” government is poised to table massive cuts of 90 per cent to arts funding in the next provincial funding that would decimate BC’s vibrant arts community.
The cuts actually began last fall, when citing the economic downturn the province moved to slash arts funding by 90 per cent over two years. In the face of public blowback, some of the funding was restored with gaming money, but the service plan going forward still shows 90 per cent cuts so it seems the cuts will be restored in the next budget. The cuts will take core BC provincial arts funding from $19.5 million in 2008/09 all the way down to just $2.25 million in 2010/11, according to the service plan.
While $20 million may not seem like a lot of money in government terms (and BC was already one of the lowest per capita arts spenders in the country), the cuts are devastating for BC arts groups. For them, government funding is a huge multiplier that allows them to leverage private sector donations. These groups also operate on very thin margins as it is; cutting government funding can be a death knell.
What’s more, government arts funding is an investment that pays dividends for the government. A report from the BC government itself showed that for every dollar invested, $1.36 comes back in taxes. And the Conference Board of Canada and City of Vancouver estimate every dollar spend on arts municipally generated $7 to $13 in economic spinoff.
These draconian cuts to arts funding by the Campbell Liberals just don’t make sense. That’s a view shared by the BC Legislature's Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which, as part of its pre-budget consultations, in November unanimously called on the government to restore arts funding to 2008/09 levels. That committee recommendation was backed by all the Liberals on the committee including the MLA in my home riding in BC, the Comox Valley’s Don McRae.
…Moore made a forceful case that arts funding is an essential element in an economic stimulus program during difficult times. "This has to be a central component if we're going to deal with economic recovery," he said.
"There's a strong fiscally conservative argument for supporting the arts," Moore added, explaining that writers create things of social and economic value out of little more than their own knowledge and imagination. Moore said the cultural sector employs 650,000 people in Canada, twice the number employed in either forestry or agriculture, and he declared that infrastructure without the kind of activity that artists provide is "culturally and economically soulless."
The Harper government, Barrack Obama, Dalton McGuinty in Ontario, Jean Charest in Quebec – they’ve all actually increased arts funding as part of their economic stimulus packages. BC, sadly, appears to be the odd-province out unless Campbell listens to the growing chorus, including much of his caucus, and restores this arts funding in the next budget.
There is still time though to send a message to Campbell (email@example.com) and finance minister Colin Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) that they should change course and restore arts funding in the upcoming provincial budget.
If you want to know how you can get involved, check out the Facebook group: BC Hearts the Arts, and you can also visit Alliance for Arts and Culture, a Vancouver-based organization helping to rally support for overturning the cuts. Also check out Creativity Counts, a blogsite following the advocacy campaign.
Today, BC is welcoming the world for the Olympics. The arts will be a big part of the opening ceremonies tonight, and the cultural olympiad will run parallel to the sporting events. It would be a shame if the Olympic legacy was tarnished by short-sighted decisions.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers