In January in the Globe and Mail, Margaret Atwood reported the Harper government had cut all funding for the promotion of Canadian arts and culture abroad.
Though some of that money was later unfrozen, according to Atwood, it was “not enough to save the networks” that are the product of 40 years of political work.
Atwood points out what a brainless move it is for a government running a multi-billion-dollar surplus to slash already-minimal funding for one of the most productive sectors in the economy, one that generates an estimated $40 billion annually.
She ponders what the reasons might be for such mystifying behaviour.
Postulating ignorance, stupidity and hatred of the arts, Atwood suggests that Harper and crew either don’t realize what vibrant, essential economic machines arts and culture are, and are predisposed to see artists as unemployed whiners and art as a “degenerate frill” that can be bought cheaper abroad.
The hatred for the arts is tangible and can’t be denied, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the Conservatives as stupid.
Though driven by stupid ideas, the Harperites show no lack of cunning, and their ignorance is clearly willful, as Atwood suggests.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has surely seen the figures by now, and knows that subsidies to the arts pay off many times over in the GDP.
The return on the arts investment is irrelevant to the Conservatives, who are opposed not just to spending money on Canadian culture, but to its existence.
In the march toward a North American Union, currently under the guise of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, it’s an act of subversion to promote Canada’s distinct culture beyond the tourist-shop level of RCMP Musical Ride postcards, hockey sweaters and Indian princess dolls.
Harper’s much-reported anti-Canadian rhetoric and his blatant cozying up to the Bush regime make it easy to forget that he inherited the SPP from his Liberal predecessor, billionaire-shipping magnate Paul Martin.
The Security and Prosperity Partnership is a project of the extremely wealthy and their hangers on, spearheaded in Canada by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and fully supported by both Liberals and Conservatives.
But what price Canadian nationalism?
Does it really matter what remains of our sovereignty? The Canada-US border is an accident of colonial history. It cuts a vicious slash through ancient aboriginal territories, and makes trade less profitable and travel a damn nuisance.
Why not simply do away with Canada?
Why spend the taxpayers’ money promoting a unique Canadian culture when we could be making extra payments on the debt? Why not live in one giant prosperous North American superculture in a great continent-wide zone of free trade and security?
According to Murray Dobbin, writing in last week’s Tyee, we’re currently in the act of reducing our standards on more than 300 regulatory regimes, in order to “harmonize” with US standards.
Already underway as part of NAFTA, but “fast-tracked” by the Security and Prosperity Partnership, deregulation is a race to the bottom, so in cases where American standards are stronger, they’ll be harmonized with ours.
Over the long run, the result will be more toxins in groceries, lower wages, more workplace accidents, more highway deaths — in short, a marked reduction in security and prosperity for the majority of North Americans.
The Security and Prosperity Partnership is not so much a plan to make Canada an American colony as to make both countries and their citizens better suited to the service of the ultra-rich.
America is closer to that goal today, so Canada will for the most part have to be Americanized.
Canadian culture gets in the way of the security of corporations and the prosperity of billionaires, and that’s why the Harperites are taking a meat-axe to it, and that’s why Canadians should fight for it to the last inch.
For all their faults, democratic nation states are the agency by which ordinary people exert their citizenship.
Multinational corporations and wealthy individuals have tremendous power, and without strong national governments and informed, engaged citizens there’s nothing to control that power.
One vote in millions doesn’t sound like much, but the will of the people can still change the world.
Deals like the Security and Prosperity Partnership exist to reduce the effectiveness of that collective will, and solidify corporate power.
The power of citizenship has never been more important than it is today.
A well-informed citizenry will oppose evils such as nuclear proliferation, rising greenhouse gas emissions, the corporate rape of the Third World, the strip-mining of the oceans, and the never-ending war to control the world’s vanishing resources.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives wants to reduce the power of that citizenry because frankly, it ain’t good for business.
Harper does see the value in certain aspects of Canadian culture.
It couldn’t have been cheap, for instance, to take the Stanley Cup to Afghanistan to help bolster troop morale.
What a sad and fitting end to that story that the cup is now held by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, many of whose players are Canadians, but whose owner is American media giant Walt Disney, the biggest culture-peddler in the world.