Tories cut funding for artists touring abroad
Ideology played a role in decision, spokesperson acknowledges
The Conservative government has announced it will no longer fund a federal program that subsidizes international promotional tours of Canadian artists.
Foreign Affairs officials confirmed Friday that PromArt will lose its $4.7-million budget next spring, effectively killing the program.
They attempted to play down reports that claimed the decision was motivated by ideological differences with many of the recipients.
"More than anything, it's a budget decision," said Anne Howland, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson.
"The government is committed to a more disciplined approach to managing spending."
But Howland acknowledged that the ideological leanings of some recipients did figure in the decision.
"Certainly we felt some of the groups were not necessarily ones we thought Canadians would agree were the best choices to be representing them internationally," she said.
Pressed for an example of those who failed to meet such a requirement, Howland cited a Toronto-based experimental rock band.
"I don't even want to say [their name] on the phone," she said. "Holy F, that was one that was flagged."
Holy F---'s second album was nominated for a Juno award and the group has been shortlisted for the $20,000 Polaris Music Prize.
A catastrophe: ballet boss
Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, author Gwynne Dyer and former CBC broadcaster Avi Lewis are among others who have received funding from the program.
"Some of the groups we felt had little to do with our foreign policy, or how Canadians would want us to be perceived abroad," Howland said.
Alain Dancyger, the head of Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, called the decision a catastrophe both for artist groups and Canada's image abroad.
"Abolishing this program is the equivalent of killing the entire culture market abroad," he said from Paris, where his ballet troupe has been performing with the help of PromArt funding.
Opposition parties said the funding cut is further proof of the rigidly conservative line taken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.
The NDP compared the Tory decision to axe PromArt with bill C-10, their attempt to retroactively strip tax credits from films the heritage minister deems "offensive or not in the public interest."
"These all seem to indicate concerns that are based in personal taste and conservative ideology, rather than in how to best reflect the diversity of culture in Canada and how best to represent Canadian cultural expression," said Bill Siksay, the NDP's culture and heritage critic.
He also questioned the political wisdom behind the move, given the Tories face three fall byelections, two of which are in Quebec.
"It really does seem to play to the most right-wing part of the Conservative Party," Siksay said.
"It doesn't strike me as a strong political strategy for a government that is facing re-election and byelections."
The government defended itself from accusations it is leaving Canadian artists out to dry by removing an important avenue for promoting their work abroad.
"We are still supporting arts funding, including international arts promotion," Howland said, though she was unable to provide specific examples.
"Obviously the department is interested in continuing to support Canadian artists and entrepreneurs abroad through our network of missions and cultural representatives."