The B.C. Liberal government has been spinning madly to convince artists that the cultural community didn’t take it on the chin in the February 17 provincial budget.
Don’t believe it for a moment. Our arts editor, Janet Smith, provided a comprehensive explanation in this week’s Georgia Straight, which is being distributed across the region today (February 19).
Here’s the bottom line:
* The 2008-09 provincial budget set aside $27.8 million for arts and culture.
* The 2009-10 provincial budget reported that the province only spent $19.5 million of that money.
* The 2009-10 provincial budget set aside $11.9 million for arts and culture.
* Finance Minister Colin Hansen claimed in his budget speech that the government will offer a one-time expenditure of $15 million to support arts and culture, and the conservation of B.C.’s historic places.
* Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Bill Bennett told the Georgia Straight on February 18 that $7 million of this money would go to the B.C. Arts Council.
* This brings the grant to the B.C. Arts Council to $18.9 million, which is $645,000 less than was spent last year and $8.9 million less than what was budgeted last year.
If there’s any doubt, read the transcript below of my interview with Bennett:
Charlie Smith: It was kind of confusing in that there was $15 million that the minister [Colin Hansen] said, and then the actual service plan outlined pretty severe cuts. Can you explain that?
Bill Bennett: I think so. I hope so. Uhm, we’ve got money this year that we don’t think we’ll have next year. So what we’re doing is we’re taking $15.1 million as a supplemental estimate from this year’s money and we’re going to spend that on arts, culture, and heritage in the fiscal year 2009-10. So, next year, we’re going to use $7 million of that $15.1 million, and give that to the B.C. Arts Council to make them whole for 2009-10. So their budget, the B.C. Arts Council budget, will actually be a little bit higher actually than what it was this year. So instead of what has been reported—and I totally understand why it would be reported that way—it certainly came out that way yesterday. It’s kind of complicated. But in terms of dollars on the ground for arts and culture organizations, the B.C. Arts Council will have as much money, even a little bit more, to spend in 2009-10 as they had in 2008-09.
Charlie Smith: And then would the remainder go for heritage conservation, then, of that $15.1 million supplemental?
Bill Bennett: We haven’t worked that out. Good question. We haven’t worked that out yet. We didn’t know we were getting the money for sure. You don’t know as a minister whether you’re successful in your advocacy until the budget actually comes out. I worked really hard to protect the ministry, to protect arts and culture funding and heritage funding and funding for tourism. With this supplemental budget, we’re actually in pretty good shape given the condition of the provincial economy.
Charlie Smith: The minister [Hansen] said it would be one-time that would be gotten into the hands of people quickly. The B.C. Arts Council has a whole process for reviewing. Will you apply the same approach with the reviewing under the B.C. Arts Council with this $7 million?
Bill Bennett: Good question. Very good question. We’ve been working with the executive director of the B.C. Arts Council and of course, we work with them all the time. We know they have different kinds of funding that they do. They have, as you know, operating grants, which don’t require the full adjudication process that some of their other grants do. So what they’re going to do is they’re going to be able to use this $7 million for 2009-10 for the operating grant-type of situation as opposed to something where an artist comes along or a theatre group comes along and they make an application, and there’s a whole process for the arts council to decide whether they’re going to fund them or not, or to what extent. That process will continue to take place. But that money will come from their regular core budget.
Charlie Smith: Why wouldn’t Colin Hansen put the $7 million in the estimates for this year so you wouldn’t have these concerns that have emerged?
Bill Bennett: Well, there is a very good answer. He can’t. The money in the supplemental budget is from this fiscal year. So we’re accelerating it. We’re going to take it from this year but it’s going to be applied to the fiscal year 2009-10.
Charlie Smith: From the fiscal year 2008-09?
Bill Bennett: Exactly. Exactly.
Charlie Smith: So they grab money from last year that wasn’t spent and then you’re putting it toward the B.C. Arts Council this year?
Bill Bennett: Well, that’s exactly right. It’s a little more complex than just money that wasn’t spent. Every minister in the government worked pretty hard over the last few months. We found $1.9 billion in things like administration, travel, and advertising. We’re reallocating that to things like health care and education and of course, this supplemental budget.
Charlie Smith: I don’t have any other questions unless there is something you neglected to say. I appreciate you reaching us.
Bill Bennett: No, I’m glad to be able to talk to you. Hopefully, I don’t want my stakeholders to think I’ve abandoned them or we’ve abandoned them.