Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stephen Harper's War on Culture

The Canadian Culture Wars continue with the cancellation of the PromArt program, which provided travel funding to artists, performers and organizations to promote Canadian culture abroad. To justify their actions, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson cited the usual nonsense about "fiscal restraint", even though the program costs a mere $4.7 million a year - an amount so small that I couldn't even find anything in the 2006 budget that was that small.

It's, like, a buck from everyone in the GTA.

Then, of course, came the requisite list of deviant, left-wing, shit-painting, obscenity-spewing "artists" the program has funded in the past.

"Certainly we felt some of the groups were not necessarily ones we thought Canadians would agree were the best choices to be representing them internationally," she said.

Pressed for an example of those who failed to meet such a requirement, Howland cited a Toronto-based experimental rock band.

"I don't even want to say it (their name) on the phone," she said. "Holy F---, that was one that was flagged."

Holy F---'s second album was nominated for a Juno award and the group has been shortlisted for the $20,000 Polaris Music Prize.

Gee, sounds like the title of a certain movie, doesn't it? But 'Holy Fuck' weren't the only ones singled out, of course. A Conservative talking points memo dug up by David Akins at the National Post also lists:

... $16,500 to send Tal Bachman, a best-selling recording artist and the son of The Guess Who's Randy Bachman, to South Africa and Zimbabwe for music festivals... "I think there's a reasonable expectation by taxpayers that they won't fund the world travel of wealthy rock stars..." [ok, hands up everyone who has a Tal Bachman CD?]

... $5,000 to former CBC broadcaster Avi Lewis, who now works for al-Jazeera and who is described in a Conservative memo as "a general radical" [that would be Gemini Award-winning broadcaster Avi Lewis, son of known radical Stephen Lewis}

... Gwynne Dyer, who received $3,000 to help him travel to Cuba for a series of lectures... the Conservative talking points say Mr. Dyer is "a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own." [I'm sensing a theme here]

... The North South Institute, a nonprofit foreign policy think-tank, which received $18,000 in federal travel assistance so its representatives could attend a conference in Cuba... The North-South Institute is "a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank," the Conservative memo said. "Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-Western conferences in Cuba?" it asked. [that would be this North-South Institute, whose Executive Committee is filled with a bunch of commie left-wing... corporate executives].

Even Stephen Taylor sounds like this sort of blatant political button-pushing has left a bad taste in his mouth.

What I find even more distressing is the list of funding recipients that the Conservatives have chosen not to mention - particularly those in the "Film and Television" category, as that one happens to affect my family financially. Because not only did PromArt pay to send Canadian film makers to sell their films at festivals like Cannes and Sundance - it paid to bring foreign buyers to our festivals. All for the bargain price of $350,000.

Here are a few that stood out:

$35,000 To allow the Banff Television Festival Foundation to invite foreign buyers to the Banff World Television Festival.

$15,000 To allow the Festival international du Film sur l'Art to host visiting foreign buyers during the 25e Festival international du Film sur l'Art in Montreal, Quebec.

$35,000 To allow the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival to invite foreign buyers to The Documentary Forum.

$10,310 To allow the Northern Visions Independant Film and Video Association to invite foreign buyers to the Images Festival 2006.

$80,000 To allow Film Circuit International to organize tours of Canadian films internationally.

$12,000 To allow the Toronto International Film Festival to invite foreign buyers to the Sprockets, Toronto International Film Festival for Children.

$53,500 To allow the Toronto International Film Festival to invite foreign buyers to the Toronto International Film Festival.

This isn't some street mime making a pilgrimage to Marcel Marceau's grave. This isn't some performance artist piercing her labia on stage in Munich.


Yes, for the price of a few plane tickets and a VIP suite, the government can actually sell some of those partially subsidized film and television projects they keep griping about to foreign countries, thus turning a profit on those productions while simultaneously keeping a bunch of long-haired artist types like my husband employed and off the streets.

My husband is a member of IATSE, one of the two big film & television technical workers unions in Canada. Today he showed me the "In Production" list for Toronto for the month of August. It had four items on it. Only one was an actual feature film.

Meanwhile, the much anticipated Toronto FilmPort opened two months ago and is still standing empty. And now there's word that the new Michael Cera movie, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" - which is actually set in Toronto - might be filming in New York. Because it's cheaper.

Much as I'd like to, I can't blame the Conservatives for all of this. The threat of a SAG strike, the rising Canadian dollar, and the inexplicable refusal by the McGuinty government to offer competitive tax incentives in Ontario have all inflicted mortal wounds on the film and television industry here.

However, as far as I can tell, Stephen Harper is the only one who is actively trying to kill it.

(h/t to Stephen Taylor for digging up the full list of recipients)


  1. Excellent post. Having worked in the federal arts and culture area, I can attest to the fact that this is an ideological inspired decision. DFAIT subsidizes a number of industry sectors to help them improve their exports and the amount spent on arts and culture was little in comparison.

  2. It does appear to be another dismal example of national self-sabotage, wouldn't it?

  3. This isn't some street mime making a pilgrimage to Marcel Marceau's grave. This isn't some performance artist piercing her labia on stage in Munich.

    Heh. Great post. Especially the coup de grâce:

    h/t to Stephen Taylor for digging up the full list of recipients

  4. There is no reason we can't spend the money to promote and showcase our artisitc talent abroad if we are going to be spending that and much more with the same idea regarding sports and the Olympics.