Our Sanctimonious Government

Stephen Harper

Earlier this week, the Harper Conservatives announced that it was axing two arts funding programs totalling around $14 million.

This in and of itself may not sound like big news, although understandably the arts community is quite upset. The Canadian government continues to give generously to the artistic community.

But what makes this event news is the reasons the Conservative government made for cancelling PromArt and Trade Routes, two programs which help Canadian artists sell their work abroad (quite often these programs delivered a 10-to-1 return on the initial investment).

In the case of PromArt, we think the [funding] choices made were inappropriate … inappropriate because they were ideological in some cases, with highly ideological individuals exposing their agendas or [money going to] wealthy celebrities or fringe arts groups that in many cases would be at best, unrepresentative, and at worst, offensive.” —Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister’s press secretary


What is particularly disturbing is how this government, in order to defend its cuts, has sought to scapegoat individual Canadians. Memos denounced particular recipients. The Conservative-friendly paper, The National Post called the modest PromArt program a gravy train:

Why, for instance, is it the duty of Canadian taxpayers to fly left-wing anti-war journalist Gwynne Dyer — who is a resident of Britain— to Cuba to hobnob with that country’s opinion leaders and give them a “greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy, values and models”?


Or, as the Conservative memo itself said, “Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-Western conferences in Cuba?

However, as Gwynne Dyer points out, whoever listed him as a reason why PromArt should have been cut got it wrong:

When the Canadian government announced it was shutting down the PromArt cultural diplomacy program, it named me as one of the free-loaders who abuse the grant system - in my case, by going off to Cuba to misrepresent true Canadian values. The Conservative talking points said I am “a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own,” and your editorial The Arts Belong In Foreign Policy (Aug. 11) said “those grants never should have been approved, and the criteria should be tightened to prevent such abuses.”

But, in fact, I was asked to go to Cuba in early 2007 by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Some embassies in Havana were bringing in experts to talk to groups of influential Cubans about how things work in free societies. Fidel Castro was on the way out, and the embassies were being creatively subversive. I talked about the media to young journalists, and about civil-military ties in a democracy to senior military people.

I didn’t get paid for the work, but the Canadian embassy gave me $3,000 in cash to cover my travel costs. I never applied for a grant, and I never heard of PromArt until last week, but obviously some wily accountant at Foreign Affairs took the money for the Cuban project out of the wrong pocket. Stephen Harper’s ministers just can’t keep control of their departments.

(hat tip the Vanity Press)

Do you see how this government and some of its supporters work? It’s one thing to cancel a grants program for the Arts community. There are any number of reasons you can give: we need to save money; there are other programs available; we have a different vision on what gets funded. All of these are reasonable reasons.

But they are reasons that can be debated and fought on the political stage, and that appears to be problematic for a government who may be too lazy or cowardly to engage in such a debate. Any other government would list the possible reasons I’ve given above, listen to public opinion, and then either stick to their guns or change their policy. Instead, the Harper Conservatives choose to bring out the personal attacks on scapegoats. Gwynne Dyer is a “left wing” columnist. He abused the process. Artists are a bunch of freeloaders. That’s what’s implied by the statements coming out of this government, even though, as Dyer demonstrates, they are factually incorrect.

As a member of the arts community, even one who hasn’t applied for a federal grant in years, I find that this personal attack landed a bit too close to home. Now, is every grant that I might apply for an opportunity for some government official to flaunt my name as a leech on Canadian taxpayers? If I step up my criticism of this government, will I turn grim eyes towards me, prying into my personal or financial affairs for items of possible embarrassment?

It’s this action which turns an otherwise tame political move into something intolerable. It again highlights the Harper Conservatives as one of the most petty and vindictive governments in the history of Canada. They are spitting on the electorate they are supposed to serve, and they need a good electoral slap to restore their humility, and soon.

George Bush: Paper Tiger

On discussing Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the Bush Administration’s limited response to the aggression, Erin said that this was one reason why “we” had to get out of Iraq. Not that we would likely go to war over the territorial integrity of Georgia, but under current circumstances, we simply can’t, and Vladimir Putin knows this. If nothing else, this incident has illustrated yet again the depth of the Bush Administration’s folly in this great sidetrack on the War on Terror.

And, as if to twist the knife, I hear that the European Union has managed to broker a cease fire (hat tip Raphael).

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