I’ve spent two weeks engulfed in the highly entertaining, occasionally exciting and often frightening political and economic world that is the United States of America. But I feel like I’ve been a bad Canadian, neglecting my home and native land despite a lot of critical issues on the table at Canada’s upcoming election, which is just 15 days away.
But I was lucky enough to spend this past very lazy Sunday catching up on a week or two of The Globe and Mail and came across a crucial and beautifully written commentary by legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The piece takes on the issue of arts funding that may be significantly troubled by the possibility of a majority conservative government. Its adapted from a lecture Atwood will be delivering in Edmonton on October 1, and I suggest anyone – Canadian or not – give it at least a quick read. And if you are Canadian, try and keep Atwood’s words in mind when you vote.
At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we’ve been punching above our weight on the world stage – in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it’s a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada’s cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an “estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).”
But we’ve just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts.” His idea of “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I’m one of them, and I’m no Warren Buffett. I don’t whine about my grants because I don’t get any grants. I whine about other grants – grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they’ll be millionaires.