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Canada's Heritage Minister James Moore speaks in Ottawa, March 26, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS)
Canada's Heritage Minister James Moore speaks in Ottawa, March 26, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS)

Public policy

Can James Moore be both arts champion and axe man? Add to ...

“I think that ... we have a champion within the cabinet,” said Simon Brault, vice-chair of the Canada Council and CEO of the National Theatre School of Canada, to which Moore recently paid a visit. “I think this budget is confirming that he championed the sector. ... He probably had to fight and argue a lot to win what he won in the budget and I think that ... I and other leaders in the cultural milieu realize that we are blessed to have someone who decided to fight for us.”

Added Dubeau, who also praised the budget: “He’s fairly outspoken about his conviction that arts and culture are important assets for Canada and not just economic but also social assets, and that’s a discourse that we don’t often hear from this government.”

That perception – of Moore as a lonely defender of the arts within his party – is fairly widespread in the arts community.

“We’re fortunate that the ministry is headed by somebody who is probably taking a stronger stand within government in defence of the programs than would be expected,” says Rob Gloor, executive director of the Vancouver-based Alliance for Arts and Culture. “So within the spectrum of the Conservative Party, I think that James Moore is considered generally more friend than foe.”

Moore, a former private radio broadcaster, hasn’t made many friends at CBC this week. The 10 per cent cut – which works out to $27.8-million in 2012-2013 but escalates to $115-million by 2014-2015 – is a move CBC watchers warn will have a severe impact.

This from the Minister who told the CBC the day after last year’s election that support for the public broadcaster would be maintained or increased.

So, what happened between May 3, 2011, and Thursday’s federal budget?

“The commitment is that the CBC has to have enough money to fulfill its mandate. That’s our commitment. And in this budget, they do,” said Moore.

Ian Morrison, of the pro-CBC group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, was livid on Thursday, calling the cuts to the CBC “vindictive” and “punitive.” And he warned that they could mean the death of Radio 2, the closing of foreign bureaus and other cuts.

(Actual decisions will be outlined to CBC employees in upcoming Town Hall meetings.)

But Morrison also suggests that Moore isn’t necessarily making the decisions when it comes to big-ticket items like the CBC. “When we get to things the size of the national public broadcaster, I think he takes orders,” says Morrison.

“I’d have to say he certainly hasn’t been a disaster, and he may be the best that you can possibly get from this government.”

Politics, as they say, can make strange bedfellows. Consider a funding announcement at the VSO School of Music the week before the budget came down. Moore sat onstage next to Fatima Amarshi, who beamed as Moore announced more than $10-million for more than 100 organizations, including hers. Amarshi is executive director of the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, which operates the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Before that, she was executive director of Pride Toronto – an organization that, after her departure in 2008, ran into its share of troubles, including the loss in 2010 of federal funding under the Marquee Tourism program in a move that was largely seen as political. Amarshi says she’d like to see more progressive social policies from the Conservative government, but she believes in Moore himself.

“He’s been a really vocal and consistent advocate and he believes arts and culture are really vital,” she said this week. “So I think there’s a sense that he does understand the need to support the arts, and that there is a real passionate commitment there, but obviously there is a lot of trepidation in the community with the government overall and the emphasis on budget slashing.”

Moore has oft repeated his mantra that supporting the arts makes good economic sense, in a statement perceived by some as criticism of the B.C. Liberal government’s cuts to arts funding.

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