The State of the Arts in Canada Today – August 14, 2009

The State of the Arts in Canada Today – August 14, 2009, Halifax, NS

Presented by Lenore Zann, MLA at the National Federal NDP Convention

Most people realize that the Arts are an integral part of our social environment that enrich and reward our society. Most people enjoy some form of Arts and Culture as part of their relaxation time – like a good book, a movie, a play, a concert or simply watching TV or listening to music on their I-pod. What most people DON'T realize, however, is that Arts are also a significant sector of the Canadian economy. On a National level, in 2007, the real value-added output by Arts and Culture sector industries totaled $46 billion, or 3.8% of the GDP. Factoring in other indirect effects, the Conference Board of Canada estimates that the economic impact of the sector was $86 billion or 7.4% of the GDP. Looking at employment - both direct and indirect contributions - the Conference Board estimates that the Arts and Culture sector accounted for 1.1 million jobs and now employs as many people as the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Mining, Oil, Gas, and Utilities sectors COMBINED.

Performers and other self-employed creators are highly motivated self-starters that contribute to Canada's national identity by writing, telling, and performing stories about Canadians FOR Canadians. Our cultural industries are dependent on the creativity of these Artists and performers, most of whom are chronically underpaid and (with the exception of Quebec) undervalued – especially by Government. Some claim that Arts and Culture are not as important as other sectors of the economy – that they are simply a luxury we cannot afford during difficult economic times. Some claim that Artists are a small, spoiled sector – a niche group – and yet there are now 21,000 members of the performer's Union, ACTRA, from coast to coast and the average income of Artists in this country is less than $25,000.00 a year. Most of these self-employed workers do not even benefit from the same social programs as regular employees – unemployment insurance for instance. Hardly what one would call a small niche group who are "spoiled".

Some people believe, erroneously, that we should cut back on funding to the Arts when times are tough. But just ask the French – both in Quebec and France – who have consistently believed that these are the very times to put MORE resources into the Arts and Culture sector, since they already know that investment in the Arts and Culture is a creative way of providing an economic stimulus for a faltering economy and employs large numbers of people – both the Culture-workers themselves as well as multiple economic spin-offs within communities. It is very telling that recently, when world governments announced there was a global "economic meltdown" of "tsunami" proportions, the Canadian government announced a cut of $45 million to the Arts, while in France they INCREASED Arts funding.

Recent empirical research indicates that both in Canada, and around the world, the Arts are central to the creation of wealth – and that the old economic arguments just don't cut it in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. Research has found positive correlations between economic dynamism and agglomerations of Artists, other non-science occupations, and entrepreneurs. It shows that Arts and Cultural funding helps communities stimulate innovation - attracting more business investment and entrepreneurs who are not necessarily involved directly in the Arts, but who enjoy the intellectual stimulation of a vibrant and active Cultural community full of creative people. Artistic, vibrant cities and towns provide infrastructure to global business travelers, trade conventioneers, leisure tourists, and affluent students – all of whom spend enormous sums of money in hotels, apartments, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, dance clubs, theatres and other entertainment venues. Therefore, it is my firm belief that governments must get past the old, out-dated idea that the Arts and Cultural sector is simply a sponge for public funding.

As for the Arts across Canada themselves, I can put it in one (albeit long) sentence:

We need more CANADA on TV (including more English-language scripted drama); more stable, permanent funding for our Filmmakers and Cultural institutions (including the disgracefully ravaged CBC and National Film Board of Canada); a comprehensive digital media strategy which includes copyright reform; and a system of income-averaging as a method of providing fair and equitable tax treatment for Artists.

One of the main problems for the Canadian Film, Television, and Radio industry has to do with our geographical location. Many of you may remember Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's now infamous statement, "Living next door to the United States is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant: No matter how friendly or even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt". This statement accurately describes our state of affairs. It is extremely difficult to compete with the zillions of American programs that engulf our airwaves and fill our Movie screens – but what makes it even more difficult is the fact that private broadcasters are showing less and less of Canadian programs, and spending less and less on Canadian drama.

Since 1999, while overall program spending by private broadcasters has increased, spending on Canadian drama has declined. In 200, English-language private conventional broadcasters spent $62.1 million on Canadian drama. By 2008 that number had dropped to $53.8 million. At the same time, spending on foreign and US programming increased from $422.3 million in 2000 to an all-time high of $775 million in 2008. This increase was not gradual but a sudden jump in spending on Hollywood programs after a consolidation provided Canadian broadcasters with deeper pockets. Despite cries to the contrary, Canadian private broadcasting is not on the verge of collapse. Broadcasters are profitable and can afford to invest in Canadian drama, but they are buying Hollywood programs instead. They have enjoyed years and years of often record-breaking profits, and in 2008, in spite of the global meltdown, they still made a profit.

The main reason why Canadian English-language drama has become a rarity on primetime Canadian TV is because in 1999 the CRTC relaxed the rules for private broadcasters – eliminating their Canadian drama expenditure requirements (called "priority programming", and allowing them to count cheap Reality and Entertainment shows (like ET) as priority programming. The result has been disastrous. Thousands of hard-working Canadians have lost jobs, and millions of Canadians have lost opportunities to see and share stories that are the product of our own culture. Even the CBC has been extremely weakened over the past several years by chronic under-funding, and the CBC's current executives have committed an increasing number of hours to US programs such as "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune". This programming strategy is contrary to CBC's mandate to provide priority programs that are distinctly Canadian.

The Broadcasting Act states that the broadcasting system is owned and controlled by Canadians, and that it should serve to "safeguard, enrich, and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric if Canada". The act also requires that private networks "contribute significantly to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming". Broadcasters have consistently demonstrated that, like many large corporations, they will not meet their obligations under the Broadcasting act unless they are forced to do so by the CRTC. Despite claims to the contrary, Canadian programming CAN pay its own way. A new study demonstrates that Canadian programming CAN make profits for broadcasters. With consolidation and the emergence of large corporate broadcast groups, broadcasters are well-positioned to generate positive financial returns from Canadian programming.

The audiovisual sector is one of the most efficient job-generating industries, giving government a big bang for its investment buck. In 2008 alone Canada's film and TV industry generated 131,600 jobs, including 51,700 full-time jobs directly in production – plus further 79,900 spin-off full-time jobs in other industries in the Canadian economy. And we can't forget that the landscape of the Canadian broadcasting system is changing. Technological developments are changing the ways viewers engage with media, and the implications of these shifts continue to unfold. What will not change is the fact that CONTENT is king. With many of our performers already working in the new and emerging media, we must also realize that Canada can be a world leader in digital media. We have some of the most educated, creative minds in the world. We have a diverse culture. We have the technological knowledge and skilled workers to deliver some of the leading technology in the world. It t is becoming increasingly urgent for government to show leadership in developing a comprehensive digital media strategy that ensures Canada doesn't fall behind the rest of the world.

In order for Film, TV and Digital media to thrive in this country, it needs reliable and significant investment. ACTRA has asked me to personally urge the government at all levels to invest in the Arts and Culture industry, and for the federal government to commit to renewed and increased, long-term funding for the Canadian Media fund, Telefilm, the NFB and the CBC. These cultural institutions are the central tools that support Canada's multi-billion dollar audiovisual industry. Canadian drama is culturally important to our country. In order to know ourselves, we must be able to tell and see our own stories – written, directed, produced, and starring Canadians – on our OWN airwaves. A Harris-Decima poll done in February, 2008, showed that 71% of Canadians believe it is important to have access to Canadian TV programming distinct from American ones. Our airwaves belong to US, to the public. Broadcasters are allowed to exploit them as a PRIVILEGE – and part of their obligation in exchange for that privilege is to contribute to our cultural identity by supporting, promoting, airing and celebrating fully Canadian stories. THIS IS THE LAW UNDER THE BROADCASTING ACT.