As we prepare for a federal election in the next twelve months, it is timely to review the promises of the Liberal Party of Canada with its record in government.
The best place to begin is with the Red Book which outlined what a Liberal government would do for the arts and cultural industries. The section dealing with this issue states:
"Culture is the very essence of national identity, the bedrock of national sovereignty and national pride. At a time when globalization and the information and communications revolution are erasing national borders, Canada needs more than ever to commit itself to cultural development."
On the CBC, the Canada Council, and the national cultural institutions
"Funding cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canada Council, the National Film Board and other institutions illustrate the Tories failure to appreciate the importance of cultural and industrial development...a Liberal government will be committed to stable multi-year financing for national cultural institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC. This will allow national cultural institutions to plan effectively."
The Liberal government embarked on a steady program of cuts with their first federal budget, to which it has since adhered without faltering. The much-touted multi-year stable financing of the CBC disappeared in less than six months.
All national cultural institutions have faced cuts on average of 10 per cent per year and have focused considerable time and energy in accommodating the cuts by down-sizing staff, reducing operations and restructuring operations and programs.The Liberal record on this promise of stable multi-year funding is pathetic.
In addition to cutting direct support to the arts, the government has also moved to outlaw tobacco sponsorships of cultural and athletic events. This move compounds the funding challenges of events and activities in all parts of Canada by endangering some $60 million of financial assistance and promotional and in-kind support of cultural activities.
On cultural industries
"A Liberal government will help Canadian books, films, and sound recordings to increase their share of the domestic market through the establishment of policies and legislation with respect to marketing, distribution, and exhibition."
The first foray into the area of books was the ill advised handover of Ginn to Paramount, honouring a verbal promise given by a minister of the previous government.
The Liberal government has made major cuts to its support of Canadian book publishers which has placed several, such as Coach House, on the verge of extinction.
The harmonization of the GST is seen by many publishers and book sellers alike as a further disincentive to Canadian book buyers.
The Liberals have, however, moved to protect book publishers under the parallel importation proposals within Bill C-32 (Revisions to the Copyright Act) which is currently before Parliament.
The Liberals have also done nothing further to improve the marketing, distribution, and exhibition of film and sound recordings. There is a strong suspicion that this inaction is linked to the cultural exemption and the notwithstanding clause in NAFTA which the Liberals promised to renegotiate upon taking office. Early in their mandate the Liberals signed on to NAFTA without securing or seeking revisions to this problematic aspect of the agreement.
"We will explore the use of investment tax credits for the production of Canadian films, sound recording and books. We will also take measures to enable Canadian producers of cultural products to export their works to international markets."
The Liberals introduced a new film investment tax credit after changes to the Capital Cost Allowance rendered it ineffective as an incentive for investments. There has been no progress on extending this treatment to book publishers or sound recording production.
On culture and foreign policy
The Liberals also included the promotion of Canadian culture and values as the third pillar of Canadian foreign policy, however, no additional human or financial resources have been engaged to substantiate this statement. On the contrary, budgets at Foreign Affairs affecting culture and education have also been cut. Overall this results in an unimpressive performance on this issue.
On tax treatment of individual artists
"We will also explore the provision of income-averaging mechanisms in the Income Tax Act for Canadian artists."
Despite numerous representations to the Minister of Finance, the Standing Committee on Finance and other federal government officials, no progress has been made on this issue. In fact, the Department of Revenue has hired more auditors to examine the returns of self-employed Canadians which has resulted in a profusion of problems for artists who are dealing with bureaucrats with no knowledge or sympathy for the realities of the artistic profession or the tax provisions which have been implemented to ensure fair treatment of artists and the arts in the tax system.
On the plus side, the Liberal government did undertake several initiatives which were not included in the Red Book. Among these were the proclamation of the Status of the Artist legislation, the implementation of the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal, Phase II of copyright revisions, and legislation to prohibit split run edition magazines in the Canadian marketplace.
Perhaps one of the least constructive aspects of the Liberal government record is the passage of legislation to create the Department of Canadian Heritage. This Department is a catch all for a large number of unrelated activities such as historic sites and canals, fitness and amateur sport, parks, cultural industries, state ceremonials and protocol, the arts and heritage. It has created a department so cumbersome and massive that it challenges the ability of any single minister by its mere unwieldiness.
There were strong representations at the time that the legislation was being studied by Parliament to streamline the Department into one where the cultural focus was much sharper. Instead, the legislation passed with a few minor amendments. This mammoth Department has succeeded in marginalizing the arts and cultural industries within the Department as well as in the larger federal government ecology.
The Liberal government has been a disappointment for many within the arts community who had hoped that the promise of a more sensitive and active concern for the area would characterize the new government. Instead, the government has carried the actions of the previous government forward, resulting in a period of tremendous uncertainty about its commitment to the cultivation and care of Canada's artistic community.
Keith Kelly is National Director, Canadian Conference of the Arts.