When James Moore became Minister of Canadian Heritage, he says he fielded three main requests from the arts community: Don’t cut funding, make it easier to get funding by cutting red tape and be a champion for the arts. The minister who took an axe to the CBC this week, cutting its funding by 10 per cent, unapologetically clung to the idea of being a champion of the arts on Thursday, touting a budget that slashed his own department’s operations while shielding the Canada Council for the Arts, national museums and others from funding cuts.
“No cuts to the Canada Council for the Arts, no cuts to Arts Presentation Canada [now the Canada Arts Presentation Fund] festival funding – all those things that are critical to quality of life in communities across the country,” Moore told The Globe and Mail Thursday afternoon. “All of it has been protected in the budget.”
This was a big moment for Moore. Since becoming Heritage Minister in 2008, he has positioned himself as a defender of the arts – someone who, at the very least, sees their worth in terms of economic stimulus. More than that, he goes out of his way to portray himself as someone who appreciates the arts for their cultural worth – someone who gets a kick out of his portfolio. He’ll be at the Junos this weekend, rooting for fellow British Columbian Dan Mangan. He tweets about Ron Sexsmith and Deadmau5. Give him a chance, and he’ll tell you about his movie nights at the National Arts Centre – where Canadian films are shown to packed houses that may include the Prime Minister and/or his wife. He seems to have come a long way from the guy who in 2009 couldn’t identify the prominent Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan when quizzed by the Radio-Canada program Tout le monde en parle.
“He’s respected by the arts community because he’s one of the only voices in government at any level that seems to be able to articulate the arts case and the argument for public investment in the arts,” says Vancouver arts advocate Sandy Garossino. “But the support from the community is wary because of the company he keeps.”
This week, that company – a Conservative Party whose leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, famously demonized the arts community as gala-attending cultural elitists during the 2008 election campaign – may have caught up with him. In an austerity budget brought down by the Conservative majority, Heritage was cut by $191-million, including cuts to the CBC ($115-million), the National Film Board ($6.7-million) and Telefilm ($10.6-million) – all to be phased in over three years.
Given that, would Moore, who has managed, despite his party affiliation, to portray himself as a brave defender of the arts, be able to maintain that role?
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he said shortly after the budget came down.
Moore, 35, grew up and still lives in suburban Metro Vancouver (when he’s not in Ottawa). He was first elected in 2000, when he was 24, making him the youngest elected MP in B.C.’s history. He also became the youngest minister in B.C. history when he was appointed to cabinet in 2008.
The MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam is viewed as a bit of a contradiction, seen by many in the arts community as a friend among Philistines, a federal Conservative who has earned their grudging admiration, despite the tough anti-arts funding position taken by a portion of the party’s base – and some of his party colleagues.
“I think he’s a very strong minister within cabinet. I think he’s a strong advocate for arts and culture, and he’s not shy about it,” said Éric Dubeau, co-chair of the Canadian Arts Coalition and executive director of the Fédération culturelle canadienne-français. “We haven’t heard a lot of negative feedback about the minister. He’s approachable. I’ve heard that a lot from various stakeholders within the community. He listens and we don’t think it’s bogus.”
Thursday’s budget – in particular the maintaining of funding to the Canada Council – seemed to solidify that assessment.