Do politicians care about the arts?

So we have all survived 11 weeks of campaigning hearing all about tax cuts, jobs, economic surplus, economic deficit, and the ubiquitous “growing the economy” as if it were a plant or flower. There was hardly a mention of the importance of art and culture to our society. This sector has suffered devastating cuts during the Harper regime, particularly cuts to CBC and the Canada Council for the Arts. As artists we need to know how our politicians stand on these issues.

There was an excellent piece by Marsha Lederman in The Globe and Mail on Oct 2 called “Artists speak out politics, why don’t politicians speak about art .” Lederman ends her writing with a sentiment that echoes my own consternation over the lack of concern about arts funding: “Great civilizations aren’t remembered for their tax policies; they’re remembered for their art. The economy and the environment are essential issues, of course. But really, we are more.”

A few weeks before the election, our-soon-to-be new Prime Minister did go on record as saying he will increase funding for the arts and CBC. The Greens had a press release on Oct 2 announcing their support of the arts, and on Oct 5 the NDP announced their stand on arts funding (was it a coincidence that both the Greens and the NDP made their announcement after Lederman’s article was published in The Globe and Mail? Good to know our politicians are keeping up with their reading). All of these announcements were definitely made at the 11th hour, and considering the length of the campaign, this doesn’t seem acceptable. Even the Toronto Star, a paper not renown for its arts coverage, noted the lack of attention to the arts: How the arts were sidelined in the federal election. (Not surprisingly, the Conservatives said nothing about the arts before or during the campaign; some of us still remember when Harper said in 2008 that “the average person doesn’t care abut the arts”).

A recent article in Canadian Arts Magazine, “Canada’s Federal Election: Who Should Get the Arts Vote?“, reminds us past Liberal governments do not have the best records in terms of the arts. Back in 1993 after being newly elected, “Liberals went on to cut more than $400 million from the CBC–roughly 33% of their budget. Altogether, Chrétien slashed funding to heritage and cultural programs by more than 23% during his first four years in office –cuts that have had lasting repercussions.” Is it possible that Trudeau has a different outlook on the arts than his Liberal predecessors?

In a 2014 interview on CBC Q, Trudeau outlines his vision on arts and culture in Canada. So whatever we think of our current Prime Minister, I appreciate that he is the only federal politician I have heard speak at any length about his views on art and culture. Now we just have to hope that his words carry action.

Image above: Justin Trudeau announcing in Montreal that his party will increase arts funding.

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