Monday, December 20, 2010

For Those Who Believed Arts Money Was Awarded Fairly

"Canadian Money Shot" - Courtesy Terrance Lam

One of the dead horses regularly whipped on this blog concerns the disconnect between artistic or commercial achievement in Canada and the awarding of successive government grants.
For reasons that I've never been fully able to understand, there are organizations and individuals resident here who, despite repeated failure at either finding or entertaining an audience and with nothing but red ink on their balance sheets, still somehow manage to be handed additional tax-payer funded millions to once more fail or disappoint with their next attempt.
I've been known to suggest there might be a link between $100 per plate fundraising dinners hosted for past Prime Ministers by some of our more successful arts operations and the hefty envelopes of Federal funding that afterward fell into their laps.
I've wondered aloud if there were "Favorites" whose projects were subsidized while those with much more exciting or potentially profitable undertakings were left to languish because they weren't part of the club.
Though some suggested my theories were worthy of little more than a tinfoil hat, it now appears there may be solid proof that the playing field has not been level and the game was fixed.
Tonight from Ottawa, courtesy David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief of the QMI press agency, comes word that Heritage Minister James Moore has ordered a thorough investigation into how his department hands out Arts grants.
For, it seems, a low key investigation by QMI that has been underway for the last several months has borne fruit. And it now becomes a far more serious affair with the possibility of criminal charges being laid against both Federal bureaucrats and the Arts groups with whom they collaborated.
The genus of this investigation was, in many ways, initially as politically motivated as some of past Arts funding has appeared. A storm of taxpayer protest had caused Moore to question money granted to a play entitled "Homegrown" which was considered sympathetic to a member of the "Toronto 18" Terrorist plot.
Many in the Arts community rightfully castigated Moore for appearing to interfere with artistic freedom and indeed the right of all Canadians to hold views contrary to the sentiments of the government of the day.
But it appears there was more to the story.
According to the QMI report, Access to Information requests they filed turned up enough evidence for Minister Moore to ask “for a full review of how officials working at Heritage Canada analyze funding requests.”
While some may still see that as interference, it's what we require of all members of cabinet. Under our system of government, if something untoward is going on in a particular department, whether or not he personally knows anything about it, the Minister is expected to be called to account and take the fall.
What QMI's initial investigation suggested is that Heritage bureaucrats not only ignored their own rules to help a favored theatre festival get a sizeable grant, they actively backdated correspondence and even filled out their own forms in making sure the grant application met all the required criteria.
Their investigation indicates at least one Federal staffer received additional gifts from the Arts organization involved for their "assistance".
A memo issued by the Prime Minister's Office tonight reads in part:
“If the allegations are true, we expect that those who have acted unfairly and/or have broken the rules will be severely reprimanded or fired.” 
Now it's early days and this may turn out to be a small brush fire rather than a conflagration, but the evidence so far gathered would seem to indicate otherwise.
This revelation, combined with what is now being revealed as CBC is forced to comply with Federal Access to Information requests it has long stonewalled, might just be the first breath of fresh air Canadian Artists and the public they're trying to serve so desperately need.
It's interesting that "Save the CBC" petitions appear mere hours after it is revealed that Millions in bonuses were paid to broadcast executives at the same time as their ratings were plummeting, production budgets were being cut and employees fired to save money.
Almost the kind of things that make you wonder if some kind of self-interested cabal might actually exist wrapped in the guise of populist service and national pride.
If this investigation does reveal significant wrong-doing, I hope Moore will see fit to extend his investigation from theatre into film and television and maybe even the CRTC, who last week postponed a long awaited television hearing so private broadcasters could fly Stateside to buy American programming.
The findings in all those areas might be just as surprising. Or -- unsurprising -- if our continued support of Losers has been as evident to you as it has to me.


Anonymous said...

I think it shouldn't matter to whom the play was sympathetic or not. We have so many examples of works that were controversial and even censored shortly after they were published, just to be rediscovered later and become a success.

Crockett said...

From a fair use advocate, who also cares about creators and ways to improve their fare, I must say your blog is a breath of fresh air.

For more behind the scenes information at the heritage dept. check out James' blog at

MK Piatkowski said...

Couple of things, having been involved in the festival in question:

1. It's common practice to make passes available to funders. This way they can see first hand the work they have funded.

2. Summerworks is far from being in a position to host $100 plate dinners. Do you have any idea just how small & grass roots this festival is?

Yes, there are certainly examples of being connected helping to get more money (hello Luminato) but that is far from the case here. Kelly Nestruck at the Globe did some basic research and discovered the problem was that the festival had at the time a staff of one.

So essentially David Akin and you are complaining because the staff at Heritage were trying to help out a festival (a very important one in terms of Canadian theatre development) that was running so lean that it was understaffed. I really don't get it. They help out an organization with a track record of success and get penalized for it.

This is a pure political agenda.