Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Time for Advocacy is Now

The election has come and gone, the Conservatives now have a majority, the NDP is the Official Opposition, the Hon. James Moore is still the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the federal budget is about to be re-introduced. Despite the fact that a majority government usually doesn't have to worry about the opposition bringing it down, and that, in contrast to previous minority governments, it is likely to become less responsive and more ideological, it is important to remember that they are our government and that they work for us - for the good of the people of Canada.

Why am I saying this? The re-introduced budget is unlikely to contain anything different in respect of the Arts, and it will broaden the Child Fitness Tax Credit to include Arts activities. This is not bad news at all. However, that is this year's budget. What happens next year, especially in view of the Conservatives' election promise to eliminate the deficit in four years - instead of five, as in the pre-election budget forecast? Where will that money come from? Rumours already abound regarding potential program cuts, corresponding with the repeated election promise that this government will achieve the necessary "savings" without raising taxes.

Thus, the need for advocacy continues. The need for dialogue - open, honest, dialogue - remains. And not just for us - we as organizations must learn how to use our creative power to encourage our audiences, our sponsors and donors, our board members, and our volunteers to raise this issue every time they happen to have contact with a politician. We, as Arts workers, know the benefit we bring to our communities. We know, for example, that in Alberta, according to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts' own statistics (see page 6 of the report at this link), that for every government dollar that goes to the Arts, TWELVE dollars (yes, 12) are returned, directly and indirectly to the economy. We know that the Cultural Industries in Canada employ over 630,000 people and return over $46 billion to our economy (as quoted from Minister Moore himself on The Arts Advocate Blog - April 20, 2011 post). And we know that Minister Moore himself (via that same blog and also in Edmonton at Winspear Centre in January of this year) has said,

"In our Economic Action Plan, we stood up for and stood with our cultural communities and increased our support to record levels.

We did so because we know how fragile arts organizations are. How quickly they can disappear if support isn't there.

And, also, we increased our support because we know how much Canadian artists do for Canada. "

In Edmonton at that Winspear speech, my colleagues and I also heard Minister Moore pledge stable funding for the Arts for the next five years. This makes a lot of sense, both for our economy and for our society, and at the time, I was very heartened to hear it. However, I am traditionally skeptical of all things political, and in the face of a potential double-dip recession, and governments who now think that speedy deficit reduction will save the day, I remain so.

With that said, a promise is a promise, and I strongly feel that the only way to ensure that this promise is kept is to keep reminding Minister Moore and his colleagues that this one is important. The more our politicians hear this from us, and especially from our audiences, the better our chances at ensuring this is one promise that is kept.

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