The Canadian Arts Coalition managed to secure 113 meetings with MPs from all political parties represented in the House of Commons. To attend the meetings on Tuesday, October 25th, one hundred artists, arts administrators and board members of non-profit arts organizations converged on Parliament Hill from across Canada – from Newfoundland to British Columbia and the Territories – to discuss with MPs the three requests that the Coalition had made in its Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, namely that the Government of Canada:
Ninety-four of the meetings were documented by written reports submitted by Coalition members. This report provides a summary of them all.
First of all, some numbers will put the responses into perspective. Of the 113 meetings with MPs that took place there were:
Of the MPs whose meetings with Coalition members were documented, there were:
In addition, there were meetings with 3 Conservative Senators,1Independent Senator, 6 political staff, and 2 Senior Civil Servants.
Of this group, the following indicates their support of the Coalition’s 3 requests. (Recognizing the importance of the government caucus in a majority parliament, we have extracted the government members’ responses as compared to the total.)
50% of reported government members indicated support of this objective
34% of reported government members indicated support of this objective
39% of reported government members indicated support of this objective
Maintaining funding to the Canada Council
Thirteen Conservatives supported maintaining funding for the Canada Council. Many of them were happy to see that the Canadian Arts Coalition was being realistic and not asking for an increase this time around. Several government MPs, including some who support maintaining funding for the Canada Council, pointed out that all departments would be cut and it was not realistic to expect the Canada Council would be left untouched. They did, however, say the focus would be on cutting waste in the bureaucracy and not programs. Most importantly, Minister James Moore indicated that his intention was to ensure that the savings would be found in the Department first, not in programs that affect artists.
Many MPs commented that they liked the sheets that outlined Canada Council funding received by artists and arts organizations in their riding. They found this information useful. Some asked if their region or riding was getting its share. A few from rural ridings commented on the challenges of accessibility.
Integrating the arts into Foreign Policy
Several of the MPs we met with wanted to see a proposal for the international piece. Eight Conservatives supported integrating the arts into foreign policy and felt that was important. While some MPs thought it should be an easy sell, some indicated that the idea needs to be fleshed out and should be visibly different from the programs cut in 2008. “Canada being shown to the world” is gaining momentum said some government MPs, but some also said now was not the time to be asking for money. Many commented that the amount of money we are asking for is modest however others pointed out there won’t be any new money in this budget. Others were unsure about this ask or did not indicate if they support it.
Opposition MPs are generally supportive but worry that our asks do not line up with the government’s priorities. Many have been active supporters in the past – some of them pointed out that their electoral platforms supported the Coalition’s three priorities.
Maintaining funding to key programs in the Department of Canadian Heritage
Nine Conservatives supported maintaining funding for key programs at the Department of Canadian Heritage – comments were similar to those about the Canada Council, stating that all departments would be subject to the government’s deficit reduction strategy. This was reiterated by both the Deputy Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage who stated that for culture the Deficit Reduction Action Plan would be “a hair cut, not losing limbs”. He also made the point that Canada is the only country in the G20 that has not cut culture as part of the reaction to the economic downturn.
One theme that came up a few times around program funding was that “seed money” was important but long term funding was questionable – there should not be a sense that arts organizations are “entitled” to annual funding.
Thirty-one of the NDP MPs were supportive of all three asks. Half of the other NDP MPs were supportive of at least one ask. The rest either did not indicate their support or were undecided.
They tended to have very active arts communities within their ridings although some of the new MPs were not very well informed on the arts and/or referred us to Heritage critic Tyrone Benskin and Pierre Nantel.
Other things worth noting from the meetings
Parliamentarians’ engagement with the arts
It is interesting to note that 63% of the parliamentarians we met with mentioned a personal interest in the arts. Ten are either professional or amateur artists, 2 have worked in the arts, 13 have friends or family who are involved in the arts, 12 identified themselves as patrons.
A couple of MPs said they had signed up for the arts caucus – which means that it’s up and running again and could be helpful to the Coalition. Some suggested that the Coalition start an advocacy group of high profile “Friends of the Arts” and to bring out the “stars” as MPs love to get photos taken!
The Minister as champion
Several Conservative MPs said James Moore is our strongest advocate in their caucus. We were told that he speaks very well about the value of the arts – something that participants witnessed at the Arts Day reception when he stated “supporting the arts is not a right wing or left wing priority – it’s just the right thing to do!”
Some Opposition MPs echoed the sentiment that Minister Moore is a good minister for the arts. Some offered to write letters to the Minister supporting our asks. A few asked for us to have talking points ready for them in case there are cuts
The Budget process
One MP told us that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty asks members of the Conservative caucus for 3-4 recommendations each. He said that when a recommendation is made by several caucus members it is usually taken into consideration.
Other things on their minds: the child tax credit, CBC and copyright
In the meetings many MPs took advantage of the fact that they were talking to arts advocates as an opportunity to comment or ask about a variety of topics. The ones that came up most frequently were the CBC and copyright – neither of which are on the Coalition’s agenda – but it was interesting to note that these topics are important to MPs, A handful of the MPs said they had been champions for the child art tax credit.
The 2011 Arts Day on the Hill was an important opportunity to engage parliamentarians and arts community leaders in conversation about the importance of the arts to Canada. The Minister and Deputy Speaker both expressed their belief that it was a positive experience for MPs of all parties to turn their attention to the importance of arts for a day. Despite the economy and the Deficit Reduction Action Plan the majority of MPs who met with us either supported the Coalition’s requests or were neutral, but willing to listen – no one dismissed the requests out of hand.
Photo: House of Commons Photography