Nfld. & Labrador

Liberal campaign's $5M arts funding commitment draws mixed reaction

The Liberal Party is promising to meet the demands of artists who campaigned to increase funding leading up to Budget 2019.

Many in arts community applaud decision, but former NDP leader is 'disgusted' by timing of announcement

Liberal candidate George Murphy was behind the lectern Thursday morning at LSPU Hall to announce an increase in arts funding added to the party platform. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The Liberal Party is promising to meet the demands of artists who campaigned to increase funding leading up to the 2019 budget, by increasing an arts grant to $5 million in three years.

The announcement stirred up ghosts of NDP past, as Liberal candidate and former NDP member George Murphy made the announcement, with his former boss Lorraine Michael sitting at the back of the room.

Murphy is taking on NDP Leader Alison Coffin in the upcoming election.

"We are calling this an investment. You can bank on that," Murphy said, as members of the arts community nodded in agreement.

"The contributions of the arts community cannot be forsaken."

Just last month, the provincial government included a $1-million increase to the ArtsNL grant after artists launched a letter-writing campaign about the need for increased funding.

Asked why the incremental increase wasn't noted in the budget nor the Liberal's red book, Murphy continued to refer to the initial $1-million commitment.

"Well now, that would be a good question about the $5 million. I'll get back to you on that one."

Murphy said his party's promise is also fiscally responsible and recognizes the deficiencies in the budget.

"You've got to be wise with the taxpayers' money here," Murphy said. 

NDP 'disgusted'

Michael, the NDP leader for more than a decade, was "disgusted" by Murphy's announcement and the timing of it.

"The timing is that it came after our platform came out," Michael said, referring to the New Democrats' promise for an increase of $5 million over three years.

Michael said the NDP has always supported artists, rising in the House of Assembly to present petitions on the matter.

NDP supporter and author Paul Rowe questioned the timing of the announcement after a media scrum with Murphy. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"Why didn't they have this in their red book?" Michael said following the announcement at the LSPU hall.

"If they were going to have a plan like this, why didn't they do it in the House of Assembly?"

PC Leader Ches Crosbie echoed that sentiment when asked about the announcement on Thursday.

"Well, that's nice but it's not in their budget, so if their hearts were really in that, why didn't they put it in the budget document?" said Crosbie. 

"They're copying our policy. That's fine, but people have to ask how sincere that is."

Why now?

While the promise was applauded by many in the room, other attendees had mixed feelings.

Author and NDP supporter Paul Rowe confronted Murphy with questions about the timing, asking why Christopher Mitchelmore, the minister responsible for culture, hadn't promised the money when they asked for it before the campaign.

Rowe said they were told funding couldn't be increased without cutting elsewhere.

"What has changed since that strenuous argument by the minister on behalf of the government you're actually proposing to represent today?" Rowe said.

Murphy pointed to increased oil revenue and government savings. 

Meanwhile, Amy House, a writer, actor, and producer, said she didn't read into the timing of the announcement.

House said all three parties have pledged funds and says it speaks to a sea change for the arts community. 

"[It's] a groundbreaking step forward that will have reverberating effects on the cultural scene of this place for a generation," House said. 

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball was supposed to be present on Thursday, but decided to take his campaign bus to Exploits in the morning.

In a statement, Ball said the funding goes beyond being competitive with other provinces, and shows artists "we understand the immense value of their work."

Murphy is running in the St. John's East-Quidi Vidi district against Coffin and David Porter for the Progressive Conservatives.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from Katie Breen


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