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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stephen Harper: Fuck Culture.

Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party’s Canadian Prime Minister by Default, leader of a minority government (which means that a majority of people voted for anyone else but him and his party), recently slashed 45 million dollars from Canada’s arts funding. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility and moral leadership, Harper attempted to justify this attack on Canadian ideals.

The question is, why slash 45 million dollars from arts funding, but maintain 50 BILLION dollars in corporate welfare-subsidies given out to some of Canada’s richest corporations? This wasn’t money to bail out a bankrupted industry; this was cash giveaways to “encourage” business.

Is it that much more fiscally responsible to cut culture programs than it is to stop profitable corporations sucking at the taxpayer’s teat?

Which brings us to the next problem: the government imposition of morality. This isn’t the Harper Conservative’s first attack against culture on moral grounds. Earlier this year, they pushed through legislation that allowed them to deny Canadian films public funds, if the films were found to contravene “public morals”. What contravenes public morals? Well, the Harper Conservatives seem to take particular offence with the word “Fuck”. One of the films they cited as justifying their cuts was “Young People Fucking” which, according to them was an obscene and immoral film. Ironically, there are shows on television with more graphic portrayals of sex and sexuality. Likewise, the fuckophobia of the Harper Conservatives continued, when they claimed that music acts like Canadian rockers Holy Fuck were what was wrong with Canadian culture, and singled them out as one of the reasons for the 45 million dollar funding cut.

Here in the province of Quebec, we have always been militant when it comes to culture, and we have always elevated our artists to the status of cultural icons. In the last couple of weeks, a series of free concerts have been held in protest of the Harper Conservative arts funding cuts, featuring many of Quebec’s greatest and most respected artists.

Upon learning of this, Harper said “I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, 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.”

In so doing Harper betrayed not only his own anti-intellectual temperament, but his complete ignorance of what it is to be an artist, particularly a musician in Canada. To say Harper is out of touch with reality is nothing short of hyperbole. Harper demonstrates the ingnorant’s disdain for anything intellectual, creative, or to use a favourite word of Harper’s Conservative cronies in the United States, “elitist”.

That Harper, who has never done a hard day’s labour in his life, has the audacity to claim these funding cuts in the name of the “working people” is offensive, for several reasons.

First, anyone involved with the arts on any level knows how difficult it is for artists to make a living in their chosen field-if they even can. Musicians must practice constantly, learning new songs; they usually have to provide their own transport and accommodation when on tour; at CONFRONT Magazine we’ve spoken with countless musicians who spend their tours sleeping in the back of a battered Econoline van. Likewise, the cost of supplies, be it guitar strings, musical instruments, what have you, can be exorbitant. More than one band has folded for want of being able to afford to replace lost, stolen or damaged equipment.

One need only look at the faces of the young men and women who are working artists-be they musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, or God help them, writers-to see how tiring it is to live an artist’s life. It’s certainly not the life of excess and delights that Harper and his gang of anti-cultural bigots would have us believe. These men and women work diligently and tirelessly, not just to be able to afford to practice their art, but to be able to afford food, clothing, shelter…the basic necessities of life. On average, working artists earn less than 27 thousand dollars a year. That’s less than most people make. Professional artists depend on those government subsidies to survive.

If Harper does not think that the struggles of artists resonates with ordinary people, then he is ignorant of the vital and ever-present role that art in all its many forms plays, not only with what we label “Culture”, but in our everyday lives.

How many of us drop earbuds into our ears in the morning, and crank up the MP3 player as we head out on our commute? How many of us adorn our walls with photographs, paintings, pictures? How many of us buy little odds and ends from street-corner vendors, like decorative sculptures, hand-made bracelets, necklaces, earrings or pendants? How many of you go to museums, or stop to look at public-display sculptures? How many of you go to movies, watch television, go to plays, go to the outdoor summer festivals? Art and culture is all around us. Art and culture saturate our daily lives. Whether we notice it, appreciate it, take it for granted or ignore it, whether we love it, hate it, are passionate about it or outraged by it, art and culture affects each and every one of us profoundly, regularly, constantly.

Subsequently, Harper has claimed that 45 million dollars is a paltry amount, that it is a small cut to cultural funding. If that is true, then why has he repeatedly claimed that these cuts are of such importance to fiscal policy? If that 45 million is so desperately needed, why are corporate handouts in the excess of 50 billion still allowed to continue?

The anti-cultural bigotry of the Harper Conservatives is vile, outrageous, and is an attack on Canada’s ideals as a nation, as a society, as a people. His disdain towards artists and arts programs smacks of ignorance, of the very sort of elitism he supposedly derides. For who else but elitists so ignorantly assume artists to be decadent, lazy, arrogant low-lifes? Who else but elitists think they know what is in the best interests of the “ordinary” person? These cuts were not merely the deletion of a few line items from an invoice. Vital programs have been affected:

• PromArt, a grant program supporting foreign travel for artists ($4.7 million)

• Canadian Memory Fund, which gives federal agencies money to digitize collections and mount them online ($11.7 million)

• Culture.ca Web portal ($3.8 million)

• Canadian Cultural Observatory ($560,000)

• Research and Development component of Canadian Culture Online ($5.64-million)

• Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund ($1.5 million)

• Audio Visual Trust ($300,000)

• National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector ($2.5 million)

• Trade Routes, supporting international tours by Canadian performers ($7.8 million)

• Northern Distribution Program, which distributes the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network signal to 96 Northern communities. ($2.1 million)

These decisions are supposed to be fiscally sound, but yet they fly in the face of any real understanding of the revenues generated by cultural programs, arts, music, film, theatre and television. According to ACTRA spokeswoman Taborra Johnson, “The arts contribute $85 billion per year to our gross domestic product. It creates 1.1 million jobs, which is 7.2 per cent of our employment.”

The arts don’t just contribute to Canadian culture; they contribute to the Canadian economy. When you consider the residual sales of merchandise, memorabilia, food, beverages, hotel and tourism dollars that festivals, concerts, exhibits, productions and plays generate, when you consider the multitude of spin-off income generated by such things, not to mention the jobs for technicians, service people, maintenance professionals and others, it becomes clear that cuts to cultural programmes are not only myopic, but imbecilic in the extreme.

Canada is currently in the midst of a Federal election. This election was called by Harper, in an attempt to change his minority government into a majority government. The funding cuts that Harper has so cavalierly justified have become one of the elections major issues.

It is incumbent upon all Canadians who care about culture, be they fans of music, patrons of the Arts, theatre-goers or festival fans, to send a clear message to the Canadian government that these funding cuts are unacceptable, and far more obscene than the use of the word “Fuck”.

Stephen Harper and his gang of Conservatives have shown a callous disregard for public opinion on this, and on several other issues. The fact of the matter is, nothing less than our Canadian identity is at stake in this election. Anyone who cares about that identity must take action. There is only one way to remedy this situation, and that is to ensure that Stephen Harper does not return to Parliament as Prime Minister. If we care about culture in this country, if we care about our friends and family who toil to make a living in the creative fields, there is only one thing we can do: On October 14th, we must vote against the Conservatives; we must ensure that they are not re-elected to Government. This is a war on Canadian culture. We cannot afford to let the Conservatives win.

3 comments:

halyma said...

Well done.

Other than my own personal aversion to the over use of that dratted F word, art is so subjective, in all of its forms, government funding for the arts is certainly a difficult topic.

Subsidizing artwork that one group would love and another would find totally a waste of money is a hard line to walk. Not trying to defend cuts, but I must say I am glad to not be in the position of having to choose what "deserves" to be subsidized and what does not.

I guess the main thing we can do is let everyone in power know what matters to us and see what our votes can do to bring about some changes to our system!

But I thoroughly enjoyed your post - so again - well done!

Eon said...

your so brilliant :)

T said...

I thought I'd read this before.

Have you sent this to his people?