When Amir Ali Alibhai first saw the 2010-11 provincial budget figures, he thought that the B.C. Liberal government might have restored arts funding. But on examining the budget closely, the executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture realized that this wasn’t the case.
After doing some number crunching, Alibhai has concluded that Finance Minister Colin Hansen has cut B.C. Arts Council funding by 50 percent. And he says almost as large a cut has been made to gambling grants that go to arts and culture.
“If that’s going to translate into 50-percent cuts in operating grants and the amount of funding that’s available to artists and organizations in Vancouver, I think that’s going to be damaging,” Alibhai told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Last year, the B.C. legislature committee on finance and government services called upon the government to restore arts funding to the same level provided in the 2008–09 budget. According to the Opposition NDP, the B.C. government spent $47.7 million on arts and culture that year. Alibhai’s group stated in a March 2 news release that this fiscal year, the government will spend only $32.2 million.
In the March 2 budget, Hansen claimed that $46.1 million has been allocated for arts and culture. However, the finance minister included the Royal B.C. Museum’s $12.2-million operating grant in his calculations.
Alibhai said that operating funds for the Royal B.C. Museum weren’t included in the 2008–09 total, which means that the B.C. government has ignored the recommendation of the legislative committee. “So it’s actually a cut,” he said.
Hansen’s budget mentioned that $10 million of this year’s funding will come from a new three-year sport and arts legacy. But Alibhai said he’s not sure how that program will be delivered.
“It seems at this point they could have just allocated it to the B.C. Arts Council and looked pretty good, because it would have appeared to have restored funding to the B.C. Arts Council,” he noted.
In a phone interview with the Straight, NDP arts and culture critic Spencer Herbert said the budget-estimates document allocates almost $9.4 million to the B.C. Arts Council, which uses a peer-review process to fund artists and arts organizations. However, he said that after subtracting administrative costs, only $7.9 million will be distributed.
“So in terms of actual money going to artists, B.C. Arts Council funding is currently half of what it used to be,” Herbert said. “It hovered around $14 million [in previous years].”
Herbert added that in the past the B.C. Liberal government allocated $20 million in gambling funds to arts and culture. This year’s budget sets aside $11.5 million in gambling funds.
He claimed that the B.C. Liberal government’s arts-funding policies will lead to thousands of job losses, as artists leave B.C. for places where culture is being supported. “We just saw Crystal Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, is going to Germany,” Herbert said. (The Straight has reported that Kidd Pivot is set to spend part of the year in Germany.)
The arts funding in the budget isn’t the only shell game the B.C. Liberals are playing, according to an analysis by economist and former North Vancouver NDP MLA David Schreck.
“The numbers defy credibility,” Schreck told the Straight in a phone interview shortly after Hansen tabled the budget. “What you see is if you compare the February 2009 pre-election budget—and what they said they would do in 2010–11 in that pre-election budget—with what they are doing now, you can see in every area they are providing less and are cutting services.”
On his blog (strategicthoughts.com/), Schreck recalled that when the government introduced the February 2009 budget, it stated that the 2010–11 budget for the Ministry of Health Services would be $14.9 billion. When the budget was updated in September, after the election had taken place, the health-ministry budget was reduced to $14.82 billion. This has now been lowered to $14.76 billion, which, he noted, is a drop of $141 million from the pre-election figure.
Schreck also pointed out that the B.C. Liberal government announced in February 2009 that the 2010–11 budget of the Ministry of Children and Family Development would be $1.41 billion. That has been trimmed to $1.33 billion, for a reduction of $80 million.
Further, Schreck noted that the Campbell government stated in February 2009 that the Ministry of Housing and Social Development would get $2.65 billion in 2010–11.
“Today that budget was announced as $2.730 billion,” the former MLA wrote on his blog. But, he warned, this apparent increase of $79 million is not what it seems. “Last year the budget for income assistance was $1.443 billion; this year it is $1.581 billion. Welfare caseloads have been growing at double digit rates; the $138 million increase that is required for welfare (if that is enough), means that everything else in the Ministry is taking a $59 million cut compared to what was promised before the election.”
In his March 2 budget speech, Hansen stated that the government aims to “enhance support for the vital public services that British Columbians rely on every day, especially in times of economic hardship”.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.