Select Standing Committee on Finance recommends increase in arts funding

The province’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services has recommended that arts funding be made a high priority in the 2011/12 budget. The bipartisan committee, which has been conducting hearings throughout the province since September 15, released its recommendations today.

For the second year in a row, the committee called on the province to return arts funding to 2008/09 levels. It also recommended that eligibility criteria for community gaming grants be revisited, and that the government reinstate gaming grants for three years to provide stability.

The Alliance for Arts and Culture’s executive director Amir Ali Alibhai said that while he welcomed the recommendations, a return to the 2008/09 B.C. Arts Council budget of $19 million would still leave the province in last place when it comes to arts funding. (In fact, in 2008, the committee had recommended increasing the B.C. Arts Council’s budget to $32 million.)

“Although they’re high compared to what we have now, they’re still the lowest in the country,” he pointed out. He was more enthusiastic about the recommendations regarding gaming grant eligibility. “That’s the more significant,” he said. “Those eligibility criteria have prolonged the hard times for the sector.” He also noted that the committee made “really strong recommendations last year, and they weren’t followed, so I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

NDP arts critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said he was skeptical that the recommendations would actually be implemented. He noted that prior to the report’s release, outgoing premier Gordon Campbell committed to a 15 percent reduction in tax rates on all income up to $72,000, effectively gobbling up the $650 million in “unanticipated revenues” Finance Minister Colin Hansen had asked the bipartisan committee to seek input on. On November 3, the committee’s NDP members withdrew in protest over the premier’s surprise tax break.

“I’m worried that the whole consultation process was actually a bit of a sham,” said Chandra Herbert. “You can’t say here, we’ve discovered we have an extra $600 million because of increased revenues we hadn’t expected, and then before the committee can even report out to the public you’ve already consigned where that $600 million is going to.”

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Keith Higgins

Nov 12, 2010 at 5:15pm

What is significant about the Standing Committee's recommendation is not actually the recommended amount -- we know 2008-2009 levels are inadequate to the task of providing public access to the arts across the province -- but the fact that a bipartisan group of MLAs, inundated with presentations from traditional industries, large unions, and some very powerful public advocacy groups, have considered the fact put before them and have found that public investment in the arts and culture is worthwhile.

Yes, we realize that the Premier and the Finance Minister routinely contradict these recommendations when they put the budget together. We also realize that the Premier may want to punish arts groups for speaking up, as a parting gesture. We realize that prominent cabinet ministers in the race to replace Gordon Campbell, particularly Rich Coleman, may have an appetite for a culture war against the arts sector. However, when the Committee members, who represent a range of viewpoints within both parties, considered the issues carefully, they decided that the arts and culture were worth supporting.

Their recommendations are not everything that artists and cultural workers would like to see. The amount of provincial investment is not adequate, and that prevents our organizations from bringing additional federal and private investment into the province. The low level of provincial investment also keeps the position of artists and organizations in smaller centres precarious, and limits public access to the arts and culture among people with lower incomes and people who live outside of the Metro area.

Given the reckless devastation of the arts sector by this government since the last election, and remembering the government's attempts during the past year to use arts funding to stimulate the production of propaganda and celebratory spectacle, it is easy, and perhaps realistic, to be pessimistic about our prospects. But it's worth remembering that the Committee wasn't forced to make a recommendation to restore arts funding, and wasn't obligated to do so by campaign contributions or electoral threats. They asked for input from the public, and responded, albeit conservatively, to what they heard. That is a tentative first step toward sensible cultural policy in B.C., and away from the making-it-up-as-we-go-along approach our province has now.