Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Are the Conservatives Afraid of Culture? Cuts to International Promotional Programs Cause Outcry

When we were in Paris in May, the Métro was full of big ads for Les Grands ballets canadiens who were scheduled to perform between July 19 and August 9 as part of Les étés de la danse festival there. It would seem the visit was a grand success with the company from Montreal playing to sold out crowds and laudatory articles in France and elsewhere.

The tour was sponsored in part by the Canadian Federal government through its programs to promote Canadian culture abroad—programs which have just been cut. Cancelled were both the $4.7 million PromArt program which helped writers, artists, musicians and other members of Canada’s cultural industry, and the $9 million Trade Routes, which partially financed trips by publishers, agents and others involved in cultural promotion.

The out cry from the arts community has been vocal. As a press release from the Writers’ Union of Canada says: “these cuts are not simply fiscal in nature, as the Foreign Affairs department would have us believe, since studies have shown that every dollar invested in Canadian culture brings $10 into the Canadian economy; taxes alone replenish DFAIT's original investment... (The programs are) an investment that realizes huge returns to federal and provincial coffers.”

Quebec’s Minister of Culture and Communications Christine St-Pierre returned early from her vacation, shocked by the cuts. She told Le Devoir that she would requests a meeting with the federal minister invovled, Joséee Verner, and will contact the culture ministes of other provinces. “Our artists are our best ambassadors,” she said.

The Writers’ Union is encouraging its members and arts’ supporters to protest by writing letters. Here are the addresses of the federal officials concerned.

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable David Emerson, Minister of Foreign Affairs:

The Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages

Hon. James Flaherty, Minster of Finance

Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International

Bob Ray, Foreign Affairs Critic, Liberal Party

Francine Lalonde, Foreign Affairs Critic, Bloc Quebecois

Alexa McDonough, Foreign Affairs Critic, NDP

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