Music School Rocks the Vote

Music School Rocks the Vote
The impact of music, literature, or fine art on the psychic wellbeing of a nation is a difficult thing to quantify. But in August 2008, the Conference Board of Canada released a report valuing the economic footprint of Canada’s creative economy as 1.1 million jobs generating $84.6 billion or 7.4 percent of the total real GDP. In other words, the culture sector is a significant contributor to the national wellbeing, economically speaking. Who knew? Well, thanks to some recent jack-booted moves by the Conservatives, funding for arts and culture has rightfully become a hot button issue in the coming federal election.

Behind the barrage of attack ads and indignant finger-pointing, each of the contending political parties theoretically has an agenda describing how it intends to govern should it enjoy the misfortune of winning the damn thing. So we cut through the noise to bring you a review of where four national parties stand on supporting Canadian music and the arts.

Let’s start with the Conservative Party. Since taking power in January 2006, Harper and crew have proven extraordinarily hostile to the arts. They’ve proposed a censorship-based review of film and TV tax credits via Bill C-10. They tabled, with almost no consultation among stakeholders, a new copyright bill that sucks up to litigious major labels and criminalizes commonplace behaviour while totally ignoring consumers in the balance. Then they cut $45 million in funding that supports the promotion and international export of Canadian cultural products — cuts directly impacting the bands you love.

The icing on the cake came when Stephen Harper stated that culture funding is a "niche” issue and that "ordinary working people” don’t want to support "a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers.” Given the state of the Canadian music industry, where an artist who sells 5,000 units is having a very good year, Harper’s comments are beyond insulting.

Harper’s almost pathological attacks on the arts have caused a certain amount of head scratching. Is it a budget issue, or do the Conservatives just really hate culture? Well, as Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty finally let slip, their position is indeed strictly ideological. "We are a Conservative government and the ministers who sit on the Treasury Board have that hat on as well,” he told the National Post editorial board. "This is not a bureaucratic process, the decision is made by the ministers who sit on the Treasury Board and they have views on certain programs.”

We tried to reach Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner on the campaign trail to discover what horrors the Conservative Party is planning next. Not surprisingly, she had no time for us. (She’s not talking to anybody, not a bad choice given her home riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent is in Québec, where cuts have caused furour not just among artists but the general culture-loving public, god love them and their chaussettes en coton.) Nonetheless, we believe it safe to assume that under a Conservative government, those of us who work in the arts won’t be buying new ball gowns (never mind making rent on our Ivory Towers) anytime soon.

Oh, who will save us? The Liberal Party has been ramping up the outrage every time the Conservatives have attacked the arts. In a recent Liberal Party press release, Heritage critic Denis Coderre (riding: Bourassa) said, "The lack of explanation for the cuts and the silence of the Heritage minister is unacceptable. This government’s consistent refusal to consider culture as an important part of Canada’s development is mind boggling.”

This begs the question of whether the Liberals have a genuine platform that’s more than reaction and outrage. In its chief platform document (www.liberal.ca/pdf/platform/2008lp_action_plan_e.pdf), the Liberal Party promises to ditch Bill C-10, reinstate export development funding cut by the Conservatives, increase funding to the Canada Council for the Arts, and create a Canadian Digital Media Strategy to develop and support interactive media… ten years too late, but thank heavens, the internet is still pretty cool. The music business is not specifically mentioned; however, the Liberals also propose to implement an income-averaging system that will benefit musicians by allowing them to pay less income tax in thick years if the preceding years have been thin. But the tone of the platform document suffers from a lack of progressive vision, even if the knee jerks in the right places.

The New Democratic Party has also been vocal in rejecting the Conservative cuts. Indeed, the front page of the NDP website on a recent visit featured the slogan "Leadership to defend arts and culture,” superimposed over a photo of what appears to be NDP leader Jack Layton (riding: Toronto-Danforth) tinkling away on a baby grand. (He was also recently photographed in a radio studio in Québec, strumming "Gens du pays” on an acoustic guitar. We’re hoping to catch him winding out on the erhu in support of partner Olivia Chow’s campaign for Trinity-Spadina, but so far no dice.) According to a recent press release (www.ndp.ca/page/6933), in addition to restoring funding, the NDP promises to introduce income averaging for artists, as well as provide a $20,000 exemption for income earned from copyright and residuals. For musicians, this would kick ass, as it would mean that up to $20K of your mechanical and performance royalties could be tax-free. That’s, uh, assuming you do your taxes. (Do your taxes!)

Beyond that, the NDP platform doesn’t specifically address the music industry. But it does promise improved funding for the Canada Council and the CBC, both dear friends of Canadian musicians, and vows to increase funding to film & television production while reforming the CRTC to ensure that thus-funded programs have improved access to Canadian airwaves.

The NDP has also given sober thought to the proposed new copyright bill. "The proposal that the Conservatives brought in doesn’t serve the needs of Canadians, it doesn’t serve the needs of consumers, and it doesn’t serve the needs of Canadian artists,” said NDP Heritage critic Bill Siksay (riding: Burnaby-Douglas), who did make time for Exclaim! "We need a bill that is just and fair. We didn’t get it this time. For New Democrats, putting forward a solution that involves artists in the music industry having to sue their fans to secure their income is the wrong way to go. We think this bill is a bad copy of the U.S. legislation and we think there is a made-in-Canada solution, perhaps along the lines of the levy on blank CDs, which we think is a fairer way of ensuring income and treating consumers and artists fairly.”

On to the Green Party, who, in refreshing contrast to the other challengers, have posted a platform document on arts and culture that never mentions the Conservatives. Instead, the Greens propose what can only be described as a holistic plan for the good health of Canada’s cultural industries and its citizens at large. (www.greenparty.ca/en/policy/artsandculture)

In this lucid policy document, the Green Party surveys our relationship with arts and culture expressed in such areas as education, tourism, identity, employment and economics, and then puts forward 14 points of policy recommendation. The music business is not singled out, but the direct benefit to musicians would include income tax averaging, extended income tax relief and incentives, and access to EI, Worker’s Comp and CPP. Presumably the music business and musicians would also benefit from proposed increased funding to the Canada Council, stable base funding for the CBC, changes to the CRTC reserving bandwidth for independent stations, equalized funding for the provinces, and provincial incentives to increase arts education in schools. Most delightful is the Green Party’s inclusive view of the place of music and the arts in economic and social planning. According to Green Party Deputy Leader Adriane Carr (riding: Vancouver Centre), "in the Green Party we recognize the value and the role that music and arts play in our culture. That they are integral to who we are as a country, as a nation. We recognize that it’s important not just from a cultural point of view but from an economic one too. We are a party that integrates all parts of our platform, so we don’t have an economic policy on one side that completely differentiates form our social policy or our environmental policy. They are completely linked. That integrated approach is exactly where we need to move politics and political decision-making.” Election day is October 14. As I write this, the Conservatives still have plenty of time to continue their slash-fest on Canadian arts. If you love Canadian music, please think about what you’ve read here. Then round up all your friends and vote, vote, vote!