Dear Prime Minister Harper,
It's been a week since I made what was assuredly a modest proposal to you, arguing that, as a cultural monument, and not a mere economic one, the imperilled but fiscally responsible Canadian books universe deserves a bail-out at least as much as the feckless and profligate auto industry does. Here's what I asked of you then:
I think a billion dollars or so over three years could build and stock new libraries in underserved communities, take Canadian books and Canadian stories to other countries and cultures, subsidize book purchases for low-income families and make sure our authors and publishers are not living hand-to-mouth.
To borrow a phrase from the leader to the south who will be visiting you next week: Yes, we can, Mr. Harper. Yes, we can.
Naturally, such a program would require responsible oversight and careful management of resources. Most likely a czar of wisdom and vision. May I offer my services?
So far, I've had no response from you, neither peep nor whisper of interest, let alone boom of approval. I can only suppose that, what with the preparations for the visit of the aforementioned foreign dignitary this week, you've simply been too preoccupied.
I will live in hope, but will also add that this very day (Feb. 18, 2009) marks 38 years since our greatest publisher, Jack McClelland (who was, perhaps, a tad on the profligate side), announced that he was putting his company, McClelland & Stewart, up for sale. Following as it did close on the heels of sales to U.S. firms of both the Ryerson Press and the book publishing division of Gage, it created something like a nationalist panic. Would Canadian publishing be swallowed by the U.S. acquisitions monster?
And, sir, did the government of the day flinch in responding? No, it did not. An Ontario Royal Commission on Publishing set up by then-premier Bill Davis (a Conservative stalwart, may I remind you), concluded that the assertively canadian publishing program of M&S "is itself a national asset worthy of all reasonable public encouragement and support."
And, sir, did the government of the day balk at acting on that recommendation? No, it did not. The Royal Commission recommended an unprecedented financial, er, bailout, of M&S, thereby saving not only the company, but the future of Canadian publishing. And reshaping public policy into the bargain. (I can provide details when I hear from you.)
Dear Mr. Harper, you have it in you to be no less bold than Bill Davis, who was, after all, premier of a single province, while you, sir, are leader of an entire great country, which can only be made greater by the actions I have proposed, and by all "reasonable public encouragement and support."
I will wait patiently for your call.
Continued good wishes (and don't give away anything this week),
Yours in literacy,