Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Off On A Tangent : Conservatives Win Another Minority

I know, I know, this isn't a political blog, but what I'm about to post has an arts connection (and that's a personal one for me) so it is related to entertainment.

Last night, Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party won a second minority government. For anyone from outside Canuckland (or unfamiliar with the Parliamenary system) reading this and not getting what that means: go google it, do I look like Britannica to you?

So, after a few weeks of obnoxious campaigning and over $300 million spent, we're kind of back where we started, except that everyone seemed to lose out. The Liberals lost seats, the NDP lost seats, the Green Party lost seats, and the Conservatives did not gain enough from any of them to get a majority. Sure, they have a stronger minority government, but it's basically the same, which does not equal a win by anyone's standards.

So, who benefits? Well, the Bloc Quebecois, on the verge of irrelevancy before this election, actually saw a resurgence in popularity. The Conservatives have spent the last few years trying make huge gains in that all important province, handing out pork dollars and supporting their claim of "nation status". So, how did Harper lose Quebec?

Show biz, baby. Quebec is the heart of the arts in Canada. Always has been, always will be. There's an old political phrase that says "No one ever lost an election attacking Hollywood", meaning that politicians have often scored cheap points decrying the excess of the entertainment industry, which supposedly appeals to salt of the earth voters who believe show biz people are all morally bankrupt, homosexual drug addicts that want to spend your tax dollars putting on an art exhibit where they masturbate a horse while singing O, Canada. That's not true. That's only maybe two percent of us. Okay, five, tops. And we're not fixed on the horse thing. It could be a pig, or maybe a dog. We're flexible.

The arts in this country are constantly struggling. While Canadians do believe that the arts are important, it's always a struggle to keep the industry up and running. This is not unusual. The US is the only country rich enough to have a privately funded arts community. In the world. I was in Vienna, touring their national theatre and their annual budget is something like 50 million Euros per annum. It comes from taxpayers, and no one seems to mind. By the way, the theatre's budget is half that of the Viennese state opera.

In Canada, the arts accounts for 7.5% of the GDP. That's a lot. That means that that the industry employs a large amount of Canadian citizens, and contributes a decent amount to the health of our economy. As I've stated above, Quebec, so vital in this election, is the arts and culture leader in Canada. So, if you're Stephen Harper, you probably want to keep us artists marginally happy.

So, earlier this year, he cut a whopping $45 million in federal money from the arts (read about that here and here). This is after his goverment introduced bill C-10, which carried an amendment that allows the Heritage Minister to deny funding to any film or TV project that it deems offensive or "contrary to public policy". Here's a sample from the CBC article on the amendment:

Changes now before the Senate to the Income Tax Act that would allow the federal government to cancel tax credits for projects thought to be offensive or not in the public interest. The amendments have already been passed in the House of Commons.

The amendment to Bill C-10 would allow the Heritage Minister to deny tax credits for Canadian productions, even if federal agencies such as Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fund have invested in the production.

Representatives from the Heritage and Justice departments would determine which productions are unsuitable and therefore ineligible for tax cuts.

How would it work? Basically, without any sort of oversight or public scrutiny at all. From another CBC article:

The minister would create a set of guidelines for film and television producers. The guidelines have not yet been established but would cover violence, hatred and sexual content in film and TV productions, or anything else the minister believes should not be financed by Canadian taxpayers. Committees within the heritage and justice departments would be charged with vetting productions and implementing the guidelines. Any film or television program found to have contravened the guidelines could have its tax credits withdrawn and might be asked to repay funding given through Telefilm, the federal film funding agency, or the Canadian Television Fund, the federal funding agency for TV.

So some minister and a bunch of appointed Conservatives somewhere would determine what you get to watch and what type of flick gets made in the country, because without tax credits, it ain't happening. Young People Fucking? Probably not made, at least not with that title. Can you imagine a Conservative minister watching a Cronenberg film and allowing some of the shit that goes on to get tax money? It's supposed to ensure that public money doesn't pay for child pornography and hate materials, which are illegal anyway! Best part of all? Foreign productions, like those from the U.S. aren't covered. They don't get money from taxpayers, but they do pump money into the economy and the government coffers.

After a huge storm of outrage, Harper said he would drop the amendment when he revealed his platform, but this was after he had made matters worse by uttering the following at a Tory rally:

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at 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." - Stephen Harper

Yes, some (a very few) people in the arts make a very good living. The vast, vast majority barely make a living wage. I'm one of them. It's not a life one chooses to make the big bucks; that's like choosing to have no other job than playing the lottery. It's a life you choose because you love doing it.

The Bloc used the Conservative position on the arts to create a wedge in Quebec, and arguably cost Harper his chance to double his seats in the province. The Conservative position mobilized the national artistic community in a way I've never seen before. I'm proud that we fought back and made our voices heard.

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