Canada Prizes for the Arts still on hold: Moore

The $25-million Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity, announced in 2009, is being put on hold, according to Heritage Minister James Moore.

'We want to get it right,' heritage minister says

Heritage Minister James Moore with Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is seen at the Genie Awards in Ottawa on March 10. Moore said recently, while campaigning for the May 2 federal election, that a promised $25-million endowment fund promised by the Harper government continues to be delayed. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A $25-million promise to Canada's arts community continues to be delayed, according to Heritage Minister James Moore.

The Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity was part of the 2009 Conservative budget but not a single prize or a single penny has been handed out.

Backed by the founders of Toronto's Luminato Festival, along with the National Ballet School's Jeff Melanson, the prizes were to be bestowed on top international artists in various disciplines at the Toronto festival.

Outrage erupted in Quebec, where arts groups and politicians were already upset over $45 million in federal cuts to arts spending the year before — cuts that cost the Conservatives many votes in the province.

As a result, the Harper government announced last spring the Canada Prizes would be administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The government also set up an advisory committee to recommend how the prizes should be distributed and to whom. Moore received their recommendations in early September, but they've yet to be made public.

A CBC Radio News investigation has discovered the $25-million endowment fund for the Canada Prizes has yet to be transferred to the Canada Council.

Canadian-focused prizes promised

"It is tricky, it's complicated," Moore told CBC Radio during a break from campaigning in his Vancouver riding for the May 2 federal election.

"We're talking about a lot of money and we'll get it right. We want to make sure the prizes grow; we want to make sure the Canada Council has a robust private-sector fundraising arm to make sure the prizes start at $25 million and grow from there."

What Moore is now promising is that the prizes will be more Canadian in focus.

"Whereas the other was focused on Luminato, four disciplines, this one is going to be larger, more impressive and Canadian in nature."

Alain Dancyger, executive director of Montreal-based Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, says he is frustrated, especially since the 2008 slash in arts spending included touring programs that helped his company perform abroad.

"Let's say there's a Canada Prize that will be created that will in no way solve any of the problems we have," Dancyger said. 

"And it's kind of ironic on one hand to award a prize for excellence while at the same time we're talking, some companies are folding. There's something which is not just right."

'We want to get it right'

Opposition politicians remain skeptical.

"The Canada Prize is just so typical of how the Conservatives operate," said  Charlie Angus, former NDP heritage critic.

"They came out with this big bang and we've seen nothing but sizzle. It's pretty much a huge vanity prize and then the money's not spent, there's no accountability, we can't seem to get any answers on it. They treat arts this way, other sectors this way, but it raises fundamental questions about their credibility."

"We don't know where they're going. We'll see what's in there. There's lots of secrets behind that," says Quebec Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez. "We'll judge it when we see it, if we see it one day. "

Moore insists the Canada Prizes will be a "win-win" for everybody.

"This is the largest multi-disciplinary prize for arts and culture in Canadian history and one of the largest in the world, and we want to get it right."