Federal candidates debate arts cuts before Wrecking Ball arrives

The 650-seat Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage was packed last night for an event that combined an all-candidates meeting on the arts and a political cabaret called Wrecking Ball.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s $45 million in cuts to arts funding provoked the meeting, which was organized by the Alliance for Arts and Culture, but organizers said Lorne Mayencourt, the Conservative candidate for Vancouver Centre, had let it be known he was too busy to attend. (However, Mayencourt did unexpectedly show up late to the event). John Cummins, MP for Delta–Richmond East, appeared for the Conservatives.

Responding to a question about whether the boards of organizations such as the CBC should be headed by professionals in the field or by political appointees, Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry and her challengers Michael Byers (NDP), and Adriane Carr (Green) all favoured professionals. Cummins disagreed, saying such boards should include businesspeople as well as some members interested in the arts, explaining, "There has to be some oversight."

In the lobby after the debate, writer and producer Chris Haddock, the creator of Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence, expressed his outrage at Cummins’s remark. "He insulted the whole room by implying that artists aren’t businesspeople, that what we do is some kind of arts and crafts."

Wrecking Ball included Toronto playwright Judith Thompson’s Nail Biter, which explores the treatment of Canadian Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. Local writers responded to Harper’s remarks of September 23 in which he said that "ordinary" Canadians don’t like to see artists at galas whining about the size of their subsidies.

In Arts Galas and Fuzzy Sweaters, Vancouver playwright and actor Alex Lazaridis Ferguson maintained, "If we gave up our place at the bottom of the income ladder, everyone else would come tumbling down."