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James Adams

As has largely been the Harper Conservatives wont since first being elected in 2006, budgets with respect to arts and culture have been short on vision, direction and ambition, heavy on the "this's" and "that's."

So it was Tuesday with the tabling of the 2105-16 economic action plan in the House of Commons. There was a commitment to begin spending $210-million over the next four years to mark Canada's 150th birthday and confirmation of an earlier announcement dedicating $191-million to upgrade the physical plants of the National Arts Centre and the Canadian Science and Technology Museum, both Crown corporations based in Ottawa.

But was there anything about the CBC? Or the NFB? Or Telefilm Canada? Nothing that was readily apparent. (And In the case of the CBC at least, no news was probably good news, since the Crown corporation is still adapting to the new financial regime the Conservatives imposed with their 2012 budget.)

Harbourfront Centre on Toronto's waterfront, in the meantime, is on tap to receive another $25-million in programming assistance, spread over five years. The Tories first committed that amount in its 2011-12 budget over the same duration, with the last instalment to be paid out this year.

Musicians got some good news with the announcement that the government intends to lengthen the term of copyright for sound recordings to 70 years from 50 years of the date of release. Admittedly, it's unclear, as trade organization Music Canada notes, "if that release would have to occur within the first 70 years of 'fixation' or within the first 50 years of fixation (as it currently does)." Term of copyright starts the year after a sound recording was initially "fixed" (i.e., recorded) or "published" (i.e., released), whichever comes second. So Leonard Cohen's classic version of Suzanne, released in late 1967, will, under the new copyright regime, enter the public domain in 2038 (instead of 2018 as will occur if the Tories fail to enact the extension).

Cohen, who turns 81 this year, earlier joined other Canadian musicians to press the government for the extension. "In a just few short years," he said in statement, "songs we recorded in the late 1960s will no longer have copyright protection in Canada. Many of us in our 70s and 80s depend on income from these songs for our livelihood. We would deeply appreciate any adjustment that would avert a financial disaster in our lives."

The government also plans to swell the ranks of the Order of Canada, of which Cohen has been a member since 1991 (and an officer since 2003). The Harper Conservatives are proposing to earmark $13.4-million over the next five years "to increase the number of nominations to the Order" from what the budget calls "under-represented sectors" at the same time as they "modernize eligibility and selection criteria for a number of other honours and awards."

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