A succession of Liberal heritage ministers has not released public reports from the past two years on the number of export permits issued for expensive artwork to leave the country and the value of tax credits given out for donating art to museums.
The export permits and the tax credits are governed by the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. The complicated regulatory system sits at the intersection of art, commerce and philanthropy, and controls millions of dollars worth of art each year that crosses borders or moves from private to public hands.
Cultural property is covered under the act if it is of a certain age and value. The system covers everything from fossils to musical instruments, but most of the objects are works of visual art. A painting made by a Canadian artist would be covered if it was at least 50 years old and worth more than $15,000.
A tribunal of experts – the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board – produces an annual report on activity covered by the act to Parliament. The reports detail, among other things, what works were blocked from leaving the country, what grants were issued to museums so they could buy the blocked art, and how much in tax credits was given to collectors who donated to public galleries.
The reports are submitted to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who approves them and makes them available to the public by tabling them in Parliament.
The latest publicly available report covers the 2015-16 fiscal year. It was tabled on July 19, 2017. Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail under access to information law show that, since at least April 11, 2018, the board has continued to submit reports to heritage ministers, who have not yet approved them. Tabling the reports was included on dozens of memos to the minister from public servants and aides since then, including a to-do list sent as recently as June 14, 2019.
Since April, 2018, the Liberals have had three heritage ministers: Mélanie Joly, Pablo Rodriguez and Steven Guilbeault.
Camille Gagné-Raynauld, a spokeswoman for Mr. Guilbeault, the current minister, said he “is reviewing [the board’s] reports and hopes to table them soon.”
Ms. Gagné-Raynauld declined to say why the reports had not already been made public.
Sharilyn Ingram, the chair of the review board, said the board has submitted reports for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years, and is finishing the 2018-19 report.
“As an independent tribunal, we have fulfilled our statutory obligations and submitted our reports," Ms. Ingram said. "We do not speculate on the timing of their tabling in Parliament.”
The act does not have a firm deadline for when reports are to be made public. It says the minister should table them “as soon as practicable.”
A copy of the 2016-17 report, which was briefly available on a government website then taken down, shows the board reviewed 496 applications for tax credits, worth an estimated $35-million. Also, the government received 401 applications to take valuable cultural property out of the country, just three of which were declined.
Some details can be made public before the reports. For instance, if a work is temporarily blocked from leaving the country, art galleries are notified and can bid on it. The government may give the institutions a grant to cover some of the purchase price, and those grants are made public. For instance, the federal government gave the Art Gallery of Ontario $540,000 in June to help buy the 1892 French Impressionist painting Iris Bleus, Jardin du Petit Gennevilliers by Gustave Caillebotte, which had been the subject of a court dispute. The gallery paid more than $1-million to buy the work from a British art dealer.
Alex Herman, assistant director of the Institute of Art and Law, an educational organization, said the system should also publishing a list of which works of art were given to galleries in exchange for the tax credits.
“It would be kind of nice to know, for the public, what great works are coming into our collections,” he said.