Trudeau's pledge of arts investment leaves cultural groups cautiously optimistic

Justin Trudeau's campaign vow to renew investment in the arts was music to the industry's ears, and as the Liberal leader prepares for his swearing-in as Canada's 23rd prime minister next week, the prevailing mood among cultural groups is of cautious optimism.

New investment anticipated after decade of being 'frozen'

Arts community has high hopes for Liberals

7 years ago
Duration 2:20
As Canada's prime minister-designate prepares to be sworn in, Eli Glasner looks at the expensive expectations of the cultural sector

Justin Trudeau's campaign vow to renew investment in the arts was music to the industry's ears, and as the Liberal leader prepares for his swearing-in as Canada's 23rd prime minister next week, the prevailing mood among cultural groups is of cautious optimism.

Over the past decade of Conservative rule federally, artists felt a sense of "our right to speak openly being chipped away," said singer-songwriter Torquil Campbell of Montreal indie-rock group Stars. 

"We were slowly being ostracized and marginalized for being artists and expressing a world view that didn't fit into the very narrow one that the Conservative government chose to put forward as Canadian culture. Canadian culture is an incredibly complex and rich tapestry," said Campbell, who also has a background in theatre and has been a vocal critic of the Harper government.

"I feel like there is hope now for people to speak up."

Millions pledged on campaign trail

In late September, Trudeau — a former drama teacher — lauded Canada's cultural industries and made a host of pledges, including:

  • $150 million in new annual funding to the CBC. 
  • Doubling the investment in the Canada Council of the Arts to $360 million annually.
  • Increasing funding to Telefilm and the National Film Board by $25 million annually.
  • Restoring and increasing investment to programs such as Trade Routes and PromArt, which the Tories cut in 2008 and which promote and subsidize Canadian artists and performers touring abroad. 
  • Teaming up with provincial and territorial governments to invest in creative communities and heritage facilities across Canada.

The timing is perfect for new investment into the arts after a decade of being "frozen and at a status quo," according to Kate Cornell, co-chair of the Canadian Arts Coalition.

"The arts and culture sector represents 650,000 workers in Canada and four per cent of the GDP.… We are a very active part of the economy," she told CBC News.

"Eighty-seven per cent of Canada believes in the importance of the arts to express Canadian culture, but it's a very small market — we have to face the reality. We need our work to reach other audiences, to tour to go beyond the borders of Canada," Cornell said.

"Art has no borders."

A decade of shrinking resources

The public broadcaster, which has suffered from federal government funding shortfalls as well as ad revenue losses, announced in 2014 the elimination of 657 jobs and that the network would undergo major changes, including bowing out of competing for professional sports coverage, cutting in-house documentary production and revamping its local news operations.

"It's been a tough time for us over the last years: shrinking resources, perhaps not the kind of connection with the government that you would like a public broadcaster to have," said CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix.

He noted that the cuts have forced CBC to adopt a radical transformation that focuses on digital and mobile platforms, working with shrinking resources and taking advantage of efficiencies.

"Now we have a government that wants to engage in these conversations [with us], a government that has said great things about the broadcaster. It has been a long time for me in this chair waiting for this moment. I finally have a person that wants to talk to us and has an interest in this future."

With files from Eli Glasner


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