Update, June 14th: Moore reverses cuts to LPG.
By Frank Moher
Let us now consider the Department of Canadian Heritage, and the confusion that is its Minister, James Moore. As we reported on the weekend, the Literary Press Group of Canada, a 37-year old organization whose job is to sell the books of Canadian authors, unexpectedly lost its funding from Canadian Heritage, without warning, and two months into its current fiscal year. In 2010-11, the LPG had received $235,000 in DCH funding, plus an additional $17,000 for professional development.
At the same time, Toronto’s Summerworks theatre and arts festival learned that it would have its funding restored. Last year Canadian Heritage yanked funding to the festival, in a move that was widely regarded as politically motivated. Moore, of course, denied it. But now Summerworks will receive $45,000 for each of its next two fiscal years. Why? Who knows? The Department of Canadian Heritage doesn’t explain itself. (I sent some questions to them; they were met with silence.) But what the DCH giveth, it can taketh away, and then giveth back, and then taketh away again, and, and . . .
This is no way to run a culture. It used to be that Canadian Heritage provided some organizations with a promise of up to five years’ funding, so that they could arrange their financial affairs in a business-like fashion. All that changed, though, with the arrival of the Conservative government. “One thing I’d say,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at the time of the Summerworks uproar, “and maybe it’s different than it used to be, is we actually don’t believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they’ll receive government funding . . . there’s lots of competition, lots of other festivals, and there are new ideas that come along. So it’s a good idea for everyone to stay on their toes and not make that assumption.” This came three weeks after Moore had averred that “Our Government continues to show its commitment to culture by providing long-term stability for arts organizations,” which begged the question: had Flaherty and Moore ever actually met?
But the fact is that, while Moore talked a good game as culture minister to begin with, he has become increasingly unreliable and untrustworthy. Back in July of last year, in an interview on the CBC Radio program “Q,” he was asked if the CBC was going to be hit by cutbacks. “Everybody, including the CBC, has to be part of the strategic review and find five per cent,” he told host Jian Ghomeshi. But, of course, the CBC was eventually cut not by five but by 10 per cent, as were the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada (and never mind that, in the glow of the Conservatives’ election victory in May, Moore had told the CBC that “We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that.” Oh, okay, mind).
More recently, his office was on the phone to The Canada Science and Technology Museum after Moore visited its “Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition” and decided, as his spokesperson put it, that its “content cannot be defended, and is insulting to taxpayers.” Moore said he was just expressing his opinion and that, because the museum operates at arm’s length, he couldn’t do anything about the offending exhibition. But does he really believe that having his office call the museum’s president is doing nothing about it? That they won’t be thinking twice before they do anything else that might displease the Minister? And that there’s no difference between claiming to observe the arm’s-length principle, and actually doing so?
But perhaps most perplexing, in both the museum and the Literary Press Group cases, is that a government that says it wants arts and culture organizations to be more self-sufficient undermines their very efforts to be so. The sex exhibit is a hot ticket, as its organizers surely knew it would be. The Literary Press Group exists to market and distribute the books published by its 45 member organizations. To sell them. To make money. And this is the group that some unnamed bureaucrat — or perhaps the meddling Minister himself — has decided doesn’t need funding this year?
If the Department of Canadian Heritage doesn’t like imputations that its decisions are subject to political interference, then it can start answering questions about who makes them and how. (My guess, though, is that they couldn’t care less; it’s just as well if we decide it’s not them making a hash of things, it’s the politicians.) And if Moore and Flaherty really don’t think cultural organizations deserve secure, sustained funding, then perhaps they’d like to give up their MPs’ salaries every second or third year, or agree that, down the road, they’ll only get their pensions if the government of the day, in any given year, thinks they should. Let’s see them stay on their toes. Otherwise, it’s time to restore some sort of commonsense to DCH funding.
We may no longer, in the wake of the F-35 cockup and the nation’s burgeoning deficit, expect sound business practices from the Conservatives. But they could at least stop acting like crazy artists.