Putting the few before the many: why Harper hates the arts…

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“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  
Spock, Star Trek II

But when the few control everyone’s cash, their needs seem to predominate. Unfortunately that’s what’s happening in Canada these days, at least when it comes to arts funding. Two recent stories, the Sun News interview with Margie Gillis and what happened to SummerWorks, paint a pretty bleak picture of what might be on the horizon in the next four years of a Harper majority.

A little over a month ago, there was a big stink over an interview on a little channel with a big star in the Canadian dance world. Tons of people watched someone named Krista Erickson attempt to slam interpretive dance legend Margie Gillis over the amount of grant money her and her organization received over the years.

Most of the audience, though, came to the clip via Facebook and other social media posts, generally from irate arts lovers or people who found the blatantly over-the-top right-wing narrative of the host a wee bit comical north of the border. You see, Sun News doesn’t really have that many viewers. As a Globe and Mail writer pointed out, their primetime average of 7000 is nothing compared to, say, the 7 million who tune into hockey.

Erickson’s style and her show’s outlook are comical in Canada. In the US they would be scary, because there are actually a bunch of people who fall for the most extreme of right wing political punditry, and the cheese-ball way some of those ideas are delivered in media. In Canada, there are probably more people who attend actual tea parties than people who would go to a tea party rally.

Canada is a center-left country. You can explain the Harper majority government a number of ways: flaws in our electoral system, Liberal vote-splitting, people in Ontario just not ready to accept Layton as Prime Minister and attempts by the conservatives to appear more centrist then they actually are. One thing that you can’t intuit from the results of the last election is a fundamental shift to the right in Canada.

We’re still pro-peace, we’re still progressive, we’re still a country who cares about the arts. We still accept controversial work even when it makes us uncomfortable. Unfortunately Harper doesn’t and he controls the purse strings. He doesn’t seem to get that the money he’s playing with is everyone’s and he can’t apply his social philosophy when deciding who gets it.

Take a look at what happened with SummerWorks, the Toronto theatre festival that had been receiving money from Heritage Canada for the past five years. Last year, they produced a play by Catherine Frid called Homegrown about Shareef Abdelhaleem, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18. This led to an anti-tax group decrying any funding going to a play “sympathetic” to terrorists (even though the work was not, according to every critic who actually saw it performed) and then the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement that they were “extremely disappointed” that federal money was funding a play that “glorifies terrorism.”

Now, surprise, surprise, just a few weeks before the festival was supposed to begin, Heritage Canada yanked their funding, which amounts to 20% of the festival’s budget. While Heritage Minister James Moore put on his best poker face to deny that the move was made for political reasons, it doesn’t take a genius to see what is happening.

This is in perfect keeping with Harper’s plan to use his power, and the government’s financial clout, to re-shape Canada in the image of what his base thinks it should be. To grasp who his base is, well, think of the 7000 people who make up the Sun News prime time viewership, give or take a few thousand.

So what’s the next step? How do we cope with four more years of this. Until we figure that out, the needs of the few in Harper’s base will continue to outweigh the needs of the many.

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