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Why Canada’s New Prime Minister Might Be Good for the Arts, Eh?

Justin Trudeau campaigning in 2013 (photo Joseph Morris's Flickrstream)
Justin Trudeau campaigning in 2013 (photo by Joseph Morris/Flickr)

Justin Trudeau is the new prime minister of Canada and he’s a Liberal. He’s pro-choice, for the legalization of marijuana, a proud feminist (according to his Twitter), and is seeking to rebuild the Canadian government’s relationship with indigenous peoples. So we know where he stands on those topics, but where does he stand on the arts?

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 6.14.05 PMOver the past nine years, throughout Conservative Stephen Harper’s prime ministership, the Canadian government has been slashing arts and culture budgets. According to the Canadian Conference for the Arts, between April 1 and August 20, 2008, Stephen Harper’s administration cut more than $60 million in arts funding to programs from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s PromArt, the Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program, to the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund and the National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector. Then in June 2012, Radio Canada International’s budget was cut by 80%, forcing the station to close its newsroom and stop all but online broadcasts. A 2012 Federal Budget planned a reduction of $191 million by 2015 in art spending and has succeeded in this goal. Especially hard hit by this fiscal belt-tightening was the national broadcaster CBC/Radio Canada, which absorbed some $150 million in cuts. Needless to say, arts and cultural institutions in Canada have been reeling from the effect of the defunding.

Historically, Canada’s Liberal party tends to stand more firmly with the arts and Justin Trudeau is no different. Son of the much beloved former PM Pierre Trudeau, this younger Trudeau originally seemed to have little interest in politics. After getting a BA in Literature at McGill University, Trudeau pursued other occupations such as teaching, acting, and boxing, that could give him a more sympathetic approach to arts funding.

In a speech in Montreal in September 2015, then Liberal party leader and aspiring PM Trudeau said:

Culture is what defines us. It brings us together. Yet for a decade, our cultural and creative industries have been under attack by Harper. I want our creators, in all fields, in all communities — including Indigenous Peoples and linguistic minorities — to feel supported and valued by their government. Cultural investment creates jobs, stimulates tourism, and improves our overall quality of life and sense of community.

Trudeau promised to revive funding for the arts in some very concrete ways, reversing some of the damage done by the Conservative government, including:

  • An overall $380 million increase in new spending for cultural and creative industries.
  • New annual funding for CBC/Radio Canada of $150 million.
  • Doubling funding for the Canada Council for the Arts from $180 to $360 million.
  • Restoration of the PromArts and Trade Routes cultural promotion program.
  • An increase in funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.
  • More money for Young Canada Works, part of nearly $6 billion invested in social infrastructure.

We’ll have to wait and see how much the new Liberal majority government will be able to achieve in the coming months and years.

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