Last February, the federal Conservatives came under fire after it was discovered that Bill C-10, an omnibus tax bill, would allow the federal Heritage minister to deny tax credits for films and TV shows that were deemed offensive.
Now comes news that the federal Conservative government is axing the $4.7-million PromArt program, a travel grant administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
According to a CanWest News Service report, it’s because the feds are uncomfortable with some of the grant recipients, which have included former CBC broadcaster Avi Lewis, who now works for Al-Jazeera, the Toronto band Holy Fuck, and North-South Institute, a nonprofit foreign-policy think tank.
The story cited a Conservative memo about PromArt that branded Lewis as “a general radical” and the North-South Institute as “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank”.
NDP Culture and Heritage Critic Bill Siksay, the MP for Burnaby-Douglas, accused the federal government of going on a “mad censorship campaign”.
“It’s very reminiscent of the trouble they got themselves in over the film and video tax credit in Bill C-10,” Siksay told the Straight, “where they tried to propose that an individual minister should be able to enforce or inflict their own personal taste on film and video production in Canada. And I think that’s exactly what they’re trying to do here with this program that promotes Canadian culture overseas. They want to make sure that it conforms to their ideological perspective and their own individual taste when it comes to artistic expression.”
Andrew Wilhelm-Boyles, executive director of the Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture and former executive director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, told the Straight that the grants had enabled the dance company to tour.
“It is important that Canadian artists are enabled to travel and expose Canadian talent and Canadian artistic excellence around the world,” he said. “That should be something that any government of Canada would support, given that Canadian artists are already held in high regard.”¦One of the ways of developing that talent, developing that visibility is, of course, for the government to invest in making these talents visible to the world. All they do is enhance the prestige of the country.”
Anne Howland, director of communications for Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, told the Straight the decision to scrap the PromArt program was largely a budgetary one.
“The government committed to a more disciplined approach to managing its spending and focusing on programs that are our priorities,” she said. “So more than anything, it’s a budgeting expenditure decision, and we feel Canadians want accountability for their tax dollars, and we’re following through on that commitment.”
Howland said the program will end March 31, 2009.
When asked about reports that the government was closing the program because it did not approve of those receiving the grants, Howland responded: “There were some concerns about some groups that we felt Canadians wouldn’t necessarily agree were the best people to represent them on an international stage, especially considering that taxpayers are footing the bill. But again, I’d go back to the fact that primarily it’s a budgeting decision and not an easy one.”
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