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Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault during a news conference in Ottawa, April 17, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The federal government will provide $500-million to Canada’s cultural and sporting sectors in a bid to help artists, athletes and their organizations to survive through a wave of cancelled or postponed events.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the funding is designed to help workers and organizations stay afloat as their revenue streams have dried up because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said there will be additional measures once they are able to resume their public activities.

“This is really to help us get through the crisis, we are still in crisis-response mode,” he said in an interview. “We want to keep our organizations going. One of the ways we are going to be able to bounce back is if our companies and organizations are still there when people can start participating in cultural or sports activities."

He added the goal is to get the funding out of the door in “coming weeks,” but that discussions with various players in the cultural and sporting sectors need to occur beforehand.

“There will be a recovery phase, we are not there yet. We are starting to think about it, but there is still so much we need to do before we get there,” Mr. Guilbeault said.

The funding, which will be administered by the department of Canadian Heritage, has yet to be allocated among the Canadian cultural and sporting sectors.

It comes in addition to existing programs to help workers affected by the pandemic, including payments of $2,000 a month to workers under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The government eased the criteria earlier this week to allow artists to access the payments even if they are currently receiving royalties.

Some organizations are also eligible for a 75-per-cent wage subsidy, and Canadian Heritage has told organizations they will still get their grants and contributions even if their scheduled events have been cancelled.

Still, the cultural sector has asked for additional help because many artists and creators – a majority of which are self-employed – were not eligible for existing programs.

Graham Henderson, the president of Music Canada, said there remains much uncertainty in the cultural sector over fears that live public performances will only resume in the fall or even next year. Major festivals and events have been cancelled this summer, leaving many musicians without access to their regular sources of income.

“Any relief is good relief at this point,” he said. “Public performances might not appear again until 2021 for the artists, so how are we going to get the artists from here to there?”

The union that represents many workers in Canada’s cultural industries said it is looking forward to receiving more details from the government on who will benefit from the new funding and how the money will be disbursed.

“In this challenging and unprecedented time, we welcome this announcement and appreciate the government of Canada’s support and advocacy for our self-employed members," ACTRA president David Sparrow said in a statement.

Some of the new funding will go to the media sector, especially small and local operations, Mr. Guilbeault said.

“We recognize there is still a challenge as far as media organizations are concerned and we are working on that,” he said.

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