Hey, did you know that the first available mention of Stephane Dion on usenet, from 1996, is a thread entitled: “Stephane Dion: Toast on Day 1?” Eerie, no?

Anyway, both McGrath and Golick have pointed to this article about how culture, and the funding of Canadian culture, ought to be more of an issue in this election than it is. Whether or not you think that the government should be in the arts n’ culture business, the fact is that it is going to be, one way or the other; not even the Conservatives are (at least openly) proposing to get rid of funding, tax credits and the rest, and so the question becomes, as long as the government is investing in Canadian culture, how does it do the thing right?

(This is why a philosophical opposition to government subsidy of the arts is kind of irrelevant in this context. It’s a legitimate opposition, but nobody who actually, openly argues for that view is ever going to get into a position of power in government. A cut to funding of the arts does not actually end funding, or even substantially change the structure of that funding; it just means less money, while the system remains the same. It can sometimes be the worst of both worlds, having the same system operating with less money; that way, nobody’s happy.)

On the other hand, pessimistic type that I am, I’ve never been convinced that making a political issue out of funding for the arts is actually helpful for the pro-funding side. This is because the funding-cut side has recourse to an argument — that the arts should succeed on their own — that is very appealing, convincing, and irrelevant. (Irrelevant, again, because government subsidy is baked into the system; the argument is about levels of funding, not actually changing the system.) Canadians have been exposed to so many bad movies and shows with some kind of Canadian government funding credit at the end that we instinctively associate government subsidies with the problems with our home-grown entertainment; other countries do not have an inferiority complex about state-funded TV, but I think we pretty much do.

I think, then, that the argument for non-crappy levels of government funding requires not just a case for culture in the abstract, which is what Fleck’s article makes, or the case that was made in Montreal last month. It also requires the case to be made that the funding cuts, recent and future, are making Canadian movies, shows, etc. substantially worse than they were. I think that’s probably true, if only because of the blows to confidence and risk-taking that are created by the current environment, but it’s hard work convincing Canadians that they could actually wind up caring less about their home-grown shows.

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  1. I think you make some really good points here. The arts community is on the defensive under the Harper minority. When we lobbied them on any matter they were clear that arguments about the value of culture itself held no sway. So we glom onto arguments that make the case the arts are an important economic force. That’s the appeal of the Fleck piece to me; the point that arts are a larger economic sector than retail; that we’re important to building a country that can compete in a world market. But maybe the fact that we’re worth $84 billion isn’t the right argument for the general public.

    The NDP canvasser at my door the other night was a biologist and breast cancer researcher. He says the Harper government treats his industry in exactly the same way; decimating it with a thousand small cuts.

    The sciences and arts aren’t the only ones being slowly strangled by Harper’s cuts. Perhaps the arts community would be more effective telling those stories than our own.

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