Home     Content     Articles      La Scena Musicale     Search   

La Scena Musicale - Vol. 18, No. 3 November 2012

Show me the Money: Arts and Culture in the Federal Budget

by Philip Ehrensaft / November 1, 2012

Version française...

Flash version here.

“Show me the money” is a cardinal rule of policy analysis. The money that governments allocate to carry out their announced policies is the best single indicator of what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they say that they’re doing. This idea is presented by, among others, Aaron Wildavsky in his classic 1964 book, The Politics of the Budgetary Process.
When the “show me the money” criterion is applied to the Canadian federal government’s policies on arts and culture in the 2012-13 budget, the overall picture is that the arts sector did not, overall, see greater cuts than other sectors.
Yet there are definitely devils in the details. Some organizations have been hard-hit: the National Library and Archives, Parks Canada, National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, and, of course, CBC and Radio-Canada. The invaluable Cultural Statistics program of Statistics Canada was outright sent to the guillotine, and so was the major analyzer of such statistics, the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

The Aftershocks
Both the big picture and the devilish details of this fiscal year’s federal arts financing are expertly delineated in the Canadian Conference of the Arts’ annual analysis of the massive federal budget and supplementary estimates documents: Budget 2012: The Aftershocks Are More Severe Than the Earthquake.
The total 2012-13 federal budget for arts and culture is $3 billion. Canada’s federal fiscal year begins on April 1 of each year, and runs through March 31 of the following year. Comparing this to the 2011-12 budget, there are $196 million in cuts. Ten million dollars of these cuts is due to the fact that the last payment for the Museum of Human Rights was allocated in the 2011-12 budget, so there’s no further funding under that capital account this year.
That makes $186 in cuts, or 6.1 percent. Not pleasant, but not the end of the world.
But there are two other implicit cuts that are not included in this 6.1 percent. The first is inflation. As part of the campaign to reduce government costs, budgets have not been indexed for inflation. Inflation has been running lower this year than during the past few years: a guess-estimate for the 2012-13 fiscal year would be 1.5 percent. That would lower the real dollar value of the arts budget by $35 million. Second, Canada’s projected population growth is 0.78 percent, meaning that there will be an estimated 261,000 additional people to serve with a declining budget.
When inflation and Canada’s population growth, the highest among developed countries, are factored in, the real value of the cultural budget will decline by roughly 8.4 percent. Not nice, but still not a catastrophe.
But, if we look at the arts budget situation as a multi-year motion picture with years past and future, rather than a one-year snapshot, the decline in federal resources allocated to culture looks even sharper. This year’s cuts follow previous years’ cuts that started before the 2008 minority Conservative government assumed power, and the 2012-13 budget presages further cuts to come, with the objective of cutting all department and agency budgets by 5 to 10 percent by the 2014-15 fiscal year. The end result in 2014-15 will be significantly diminished federal money directed towards arts and culture as compared to 2011-12.
Although the arts have not been cut more than other sectors, the Harper government is less inclined to foster Canadian culture in comparison to even many previous Conservative leaderships. They do not, however, seem inclined to radically rock the boat. There are plenty of Tory voters who sit on arts organization boards across the country or are active supporters of Business for the Arts. Best not to make them too unhappy.
On the other hand, considerably more Tory-voting business people told Ottawa that the detailed socio-economic data collected by Statistics Canada’s “long form” Census was essential for marketing and strategy. That didn’t stop the Tories from shutting it down either.

The Devils in the Details
Now let’s get down to some devils in the details, via the table below, Budget Cuts, Federal Cultural Departments and Agencies, 2012-13. The departmental and agency budgets are presented in three classes: general culture, media, and museums. Within each class, budgets are ranked by size. The degree of budget cuts can be considered in terms of three categories: steep (7 percent or more), middling (4 to 6.9 percent), and minor (3.9 percent or less).

Budget cuts to the arts

There is only one agency that receives an increase in its budget: the Canadian Museum of Nature, at 13.6 percent. For the two big-ticket agencies that account for over two-thirds of the federal arts and culture budget, Canadian Heritage has a $1.26 billion dollar budget after a middling 5.5 percent cut; CBC/Radio-Canada has $1.05 billion after a steep 6.7 percent cut.
Steep cuts have also been imposed on Library and Archives (-7.7 percent). Unless alternative resources are found, many regional and small archives across the country will likely shut their doors, inter-library loans from the archives will be eliminated, and severe cuts in personnel will limit public access to the archives.
Cuts for all other departments and agencies fall in the minor category. But, once again, that’s an average that includes major cuts for some programs. Heritage Canada’s wide mandate includes a museums and history category, called Heritage, which sees a severe cut of 7.9 percent. Most importantly, an important line item labeled Internal Service, which is mainly employment expenses, is being cut by 25.5 percent.
On the positive side, the Canada Council has been given an additional $2 million in its already augmented budget to support travel for international performances and representation. Hardly enough to make up for the 2008 guillotining of Trade Routes and PromArts, which supported international performances by Canadian artists, but it’s a movement in a positive direction.
Generally speaking, this steep a cut within the short space of one year is not likely to result in purported efficiencies and thus savings in program costs. The more likely result is a decline in the level and quality of services both to clients from the arts and culture sector, and the general public as well.

Guillotining the Canadian Conference of the Arts
Perhaps most unfortunately, the Tory guillotine hit the primary source for tracking Ottawa’s policies and budget for the arts, and a champion for the aggregation of the policy goals of the multiple arts groups and multiple regions of this sprawling country, the Canadian Conference of the Arts. After thirty-six years of successive federal grants to the CCA, given based on the organization’s high level of performance, the grant was abruptly cut.
This is part and parcel of the Conservatives’ new approach to budgetary politics: no organization, however well established and effective, should presume that it is entitled to continuing grants.
To be fair, the Tories have a point to make in not thinking that it’s the government’s role to finance a lobbying organization for the arts.
On the other hand, I expect that the government of the very well functioning German economy would catalyze the equivalent of a German CCA if it didn’t already exist. Making good policy for any sector requires a well-organized, aggregated voice. That’s a policy stance created by German conservative governments, the ones that also created modern social policy as we know it.
Abruptly pulling the rug out from under a productive national organization does not strike me as fair. The CCA requested a realistic two years’ transitional funding to create and implement a viable business plan to function with private money. They were ultimately given six months, which is not a reasonable time frame to restructure an organization whose objectives require an operating budget of around $750,000.
If the CCA is not around to analyze the impacts of the Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget on the arts, I don’t know of another shop that has both mastered the intricacies and politics of the massive federal budget and has its fingers on the pulse of all the arts across Canada. If you’re not already a member of the CCA, either via an arts organization or as an individual artist or arts lover, now is the time to consider stepping up to the plate.

BREAKING NEWS: The CCA announced on October 30 that it is closing its doors effective immediately. The group will technically maintain its status as a charitable organization, meaning that it could someday be revived in a more favourable economic climate.
Version française...

(c) La Scena Musicale