Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Books for Stephen Harper and "Support" for Culture

Yann Martel, the author of The Life of Pi, has just sent the eighth in his What is Stephen Harper Reading? series to Canada’s prime minister. This time it’s Short and Sweet: 101 very short poems, edited by Simon Armitage, published by Faber and Faber. It will be interesting to see if Martel gets a response--so far he has only received acknowledgement for his first "gift," The Death of Ivan Illych by Tolstoy.

Martel began his campaign to get Harper to read short but worthwhile books as a protest against the lack of support for cultural causes by Harper's government. When it came into power, it cut deeply into cultural budgets, and while it restored $20 million last year, and promised $30 million for 2007-2008, it has shown weak enthusiasm for the cultural industries. On Friday Bev Oda, the minister for Canadian Heritage, confirmed the next $30 million, and pledged $30 million more a year henceforward.

While thanking Oda for the infusion of cash, Susan Swan, chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, noted yesterday that Oda "has yet to make a peep about restoring the $11.8 million in cuts made by her government to funding for the promotion of Canadian artists and writers abroad," She added, "Liberal leader Stéphan Dion has already promised $22.8 million for the international promotion of Canadian arts and culture. We are asking the other Federal parties if they can do the same or better. So far Dion has demonstrated the most convincing support for the arts, perhaps because he comes from Quebec, a province that already understands that the arts are crucial to the expression of national identity."

It will be interesting to see if Harper responds to Martel's gift this time. Maybe he ought to include Oda in his gift list, just to make sure she's got some good reading too.

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