Artists, actors say Tory arts cuts equal censorship

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Montreal on Wednesday to protest government cuts to arts and culture programs.

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Montreal on Wednesday to protest government cuts to arts and culture programs.

Artists, singers, actors, writers and politicians spoke out against $48.5 million in funding cuts announced by the Conservative government earlier this summer.

They accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of censoring creative production in Canada and harming the nation's image abroad.

The Tories' attitude suggests they scorn culture, said Marie Tifo, a Canadian actress and Genie Award winner.

"They don't want to recognize the existence of art in our society, and that's appalling," Tifo said in French. "I'm here with all my peers to say 'no,' we exist, and [culture] is an essential good."

Tifo was one of several high-profile Quebec artists and politicians who attended the protest at the Société des arts technologiques, a cultural centre on St-Laurent Boulevard.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe accused the minority government of waging an ideological war by cutting cultural funding.

"Culture is the expression of a people, of a nation," he said. "Attacking it, like the [Tories] are doing, shows they are ideologically short-sighted."

Duceppe said the cuts are in line with censoring, and "that's dangerous. We can't allow politicians to determine what is written, what is seen, what dances are allowed, what songs are tolerable."

PM 'doesn't deserve Canadians' confidence': NDP

Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair warned the cuts — and public reaction to them — will ultimately hurt the Conservative government.

"I hope it has a determining effect on the Harper government," he said. "He doesn't deserve Canadians' confidence."

Culture is important and Canadians won't forget the government's actions, warned Vincent Graton, a Quebec actor and activist who organized Wednesday's protest. 

"If there are [federal] elections, I'm going to get involved, and I'm sure I won't be the only one," Graton said.

Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay attended the protest, as well as director Lorraine Pintal and singer Pierre Lapointe.

Opposition parties demanded a parliamentary review of the Tories' cuts and asked for a moratorium on the measures until the Commons heritage committee has a chance to hold hearings on culture and arts funding.

Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger accused the Tories of abusing their power by arbitrarily cutting funding for programs approved by the House of Commons in the 2008 budget.

"We live in a parliamentary democracy, and this government seems to want to avoid Parliament like the plague," he said Tuesday during an appearance before the committee.

Culture and arts production is fuel for the Canadian economy, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.

Canada's cultural industries generated $84.6 billion in 2007, or 7.4 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the report.

About one million Canadians are employed directly or indirectly by the cultural and artistic sector.

Quebec artists rallied at a downtown Montreal cultural centre Wednesday to protest federal funding cuts. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))