Everyone but Conservative: 4 parties share arts platforms in Ottawa

Hundreds of people from Ottawa's arts community heard Wednesday how the federal government will support arts and culture — if the Conservatives aren't elected on Oct. 14.

Hundreds of people from Ottawa's arts community heard Wednesday how the federal government will support arts and culture — if the Conservatives aren't elected during the federal election on Oct. 14.

Following noisy rallies in Montreal and Toronto, artists in Ottawa held the bilingual "Vote Culture Town Hall" at the University of Ottawa campus, inviting candidates from all five major parties.

But no Tory candidates showed up to field questions and hear concerns about arts, culture and heritage policy and funding.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has previously called culture cuts a "niche" topic, saying that "ordinary Canadians" are not particularly concerned with them.

On Wednesday, candidates from the Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc Québécois from around the National Capital Region assured the audience that they have a different opinion and believe arts and culture are important.

Raphaël Dery, who is running for the Bloc Québécois in Hull-Aylmer, spoke out against cuts to the Heritage Department, saying they are threats to Quebec and Canadian culture and dangerous to the economy. Artists are ambassadors that proudly represent our culture in other parts of the world, he added.

Ottawa Centre NDP candidate Paul Dewar had a similar take, saying that arts express who we are as a country.

"If we aren't able to support our artists, our art, then we don't deserve to be a country, and it's damn time that we saw our politicians, all of us, and governments putting their money where their mouth is."

Liberal candidate Mauril Bélanger, who is running in Ottawa-Vanier, had specifics about what that money would be if the Liberals are elected.

He vowed a Liberal government would double funding for the Canada Council for the Arts from $180 million to $360 million and reverse cuts to arts.

Glengarry-Prescott Russell candidate Sylvie Lemieux said her party would support programs to encourage art students and make improvements to the distribution of arts and culture grants, such as making it more transparent.

Outside the meeting room, Laurence Thibault, who was in the audience, said she hopes people who weren't at the meeting realize that arts are important to their lives.

"What really matters to me is not so much the people who were here tonight, because most of them are either artists or people who believe in the arts already … but what impact this is going to have on the general population," she said.

Following the meeting, candidates marched to Parliament Hill, where they set up a soapbox for people who wanted to raise their concerns about arts, culture and heritage in Canada.

The event was organized by a group called Vote Culture dedicated to promoting discussion of public arts policy during the federal election campaign.