The 2010 federal budget contains no new money for arts and culture, but also no cuts, eliciting a mixture of relief and frustration from the arts community.
The government committed to keeping its promises from last year's budget, which contained hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funding spread over two years. Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore confirmed that no arts funding has been slashed and, with so much talk of renewed fiscal restraint in Ottawa, that was enough to provoke some smiles.
"I'm very happy with that budget. What they committed for two years, all that money is there," said Simon Brault, head of the National Theatre School and president of Culture Montréal. "There is a foundation around that budget on which we should, as arts players, build ... our case in the coming years."
The Canadian Arts Coalition was similarly upbeat, with spokesperson Shannon Litzenberger stressing that "the arts sector is pleased to see that the government is going to sustain arts investment," and that the $181-million annual budget of the Canada Council for the Arts has been protected.
Others, though pleased to see no cuts, were less charitable.
"We're of course disappointed there's nothing new. But it is very clear that we are facing an avalanche of cuts to come and nobody is going to escape it," said John McAvity, executive director of the Canadian Museums Association.
Members of the film, television and new media industries expressed particular disappointment. Brian Anthony, CEO of the Directors Guild of Canada, had extensive meetings in Ottawa leading up to the budget, including a one-on-one talk with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and was expecting a strong indication of a future commitment to the industry, if not concrete dollars today.
"I think it was a missed opportunity, quite frankly," Anthony said. "Critics will now say that the 2009 budget was a one-off, a response to the near-death experience in the 2008 election when the PM did a bit of freelance culture bashing and lost lots of votes."
"We're disappointed there's nothing specific and nothing new in terms of commitment to culture," added Stephen Waddell, national executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). "We would have thought there might have been something very specific to our industry given that we produce a lot of good, clean, well-paying, environmentally conscious jobs."
Moore countered that their disappointment was misplaced, given that the government is honouring its word.
"I thought we were pretty assertive last year in letting people know that it was a two-year Economic Action Plan and not a one-year investment," Moore said. "It's more than 'nothing's been taken away.' "
One commitment did draw praise across the board. The Canada Council, the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board had all been targeted for Strategic Review, the government-wide process designed to identify and shift inefficient spending. Moore made it clear that the four agencies had faced "up to a 5 per cent cut," and that those funds might have been reallocated to something other than arts and culture. But the government has decided all four are meeting "the priorities of Canadians," and will not move any of their funding.
The Canada Prizes for Arts and Creativity, which sparked widespread controversy when they were announced in last year's budget, returned to the radar after a year of relative silence. The one-time $25-million infusion earmarked to kick-start the awards is still on the table, and Moore said he hopes to announce the results of consultations with many stakeholders before long.
Some also lauded the government for easing disbursement quota restrictions on charities, meaning they will have more flexibility in the way they spend their money.
But a long list of suggestions the arts community put forward in advance of the budget will have to wait another year at least. Most prominent among them were calls for gradual increase the Canada Council's budget by $120-million; widespread requests for a Market Development and Access Program, in part to replace touring and cultural export lost when the Tories cut the Promart and Trade Routes programs in 2008; and suggestions for a variety of tax incentives and reforms, from income averaging for artists and credits for live performance, to enhanced film and television production credits.
And several arts officials remain wary of the new budget's pledge to find $17.6-billion in savings over the next five years, fearing it might mean cuts to the arts are still in the offing. Moore moved to quell those fears, saying "That's not part of our plan right now."
"An economic recovery that doesn't include strong investments in arts and culture isn't a real plan," he added.