Monday, August 18, 2008

Culture and Ideology

Here is my most recent letter to the Rt. Hon. Stephan Harper.

Mr. Prime Minister,

I am very dismayed to have learned that the Canadian federal government under your leadership has decided to cancel the travel grants program available through the Dept. of Foreign Affairs.

Among other things I am an artist and several companies that I worked with enjoyed the support of the grants and had the opportunity to share Canadian culture with the rest of the world.

It was with even greater dismay that I learned that the reason you had decided to cancel them was not out of some cost cutting measure but because your government felt that the grants were not in line with the current ideological bent of mainstream society. As reported in the editorial section of The Toronto Star on Aug. 14 2008: " The targets were "people with narrow ideological agendas or people who are rich celebrities or really very fringe groups," according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, Kory Teneycke."

Once again you have proved that ideology trumps reason. Canadian cultural industries have a long history of being very efficient when using federal and provincial funding to support their efforts. The funds available for most arts groups and intellectuals - barring the very small number of superstars who have large commercial success - have been quite small. Yet artists across Canada have managed to support a thriving cultural scene and employ many thousands of people directly; not to mention the bars, restaurants, suppliers, hotels and rental agencies that are supported indirectly by their efforts. Other great nations support their national cultural heritage with great pride. Your government does not even have a Minister of Culture.

Most arts organisations have very small corporate structures. The heads of many small and medium sized organisations don't even take a salary and are paid on a project basis or have other full time jobs to earn a living. In this way the federal funding goes directly to artist employment, capital costs and consumables; all of which help to float the economy. Almost all of the organisations are charitable or non-profit organisations as well. This ensures that, unlike the subsidies to the auto, forestry, oil and gas and mining industries, the money does not go to buoy up company profits and line the pockets of the already rich owners but ensures primary employment and investment in the end-product.

If the economic argument is not strong enough, let me voice my disgust with the cravenness that your government displays in the face of criticisms from these cultural groups and intellectuals. It is a cowardly act to choose to silence one's opponents rather that offer a better argument. This can only suggest that even you do not believe your ideology can stand up to public scrutiny. What is next? Refuse the Official Opposition office space in the capital? Perhaps we should do away with question period because the views expressed are not in line with mainstream thought. Maybe we should have the CBC only publish statements from the PMO rather than offer a diversity of opinion. That is what it seems you are implying.

Culture defines a very broad spectrum at its most essential definition. Canadian diversity multiplies this underlying spectrum a hundred fold. I certainly do not pay my taxes to have my government tell me what to think and how to think it. I only want the opportunity for all to voice their opinions, whether I agree with them or not.

You obviously do not agree. Why so afraid?

yours respectfully,

Michael Kruse


Among the "left wing artists" not in line with mainstream ideology (complete list from 2007-2008 is not available online - the FA website is having some problems) :

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale (A gospel choir, under the employ of the NDP?? Perhaps)
Ontario (Canada)

Tafelmusik (a baroque orchestra - dangerously left wing!)
Ontario (Canada)

Banff Television Festival Foundation (almost Communist I would guess)
Ontario (Canada)

Toronto International Film Festival (well, duh, all those film folks are lefty's)
Ontario (Canada)

The Bloc Quebecois has a great cultural article here

More from the Toronto Star here

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