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November 10, 2008

No MP Left Behind

Radar Dean Del Mastro's big news wasn't the talk of Toronto, and because that's where I was this past weekend, it wasn't until this morning that I got the scoop on the second biggest news story in Peterborough: that Dean Del Mastro has been named Parliamentary Secretary to Heritage Minister James Moore. (The really big news in Peterborough these days is that Serena Ryder's second album is due out tomorrow.)

Harper certainly works in mysterious ways. It wasn't that long ago that Dean Del Mastro was at the bottom of the learning curve on this file. And now he'll be one of the key influencers.

No MP left behind.

The response from the Peterborough arts community has been less than enthusiastic, as you might expect. It seems that the only one around town who is gushing about this appointment is Del Mastro himself. Surely Del Mastro wasn't expecting much more. This is the same community, after all, that

The Peterborough Examiner's coverage of Del Mastro's appointment included these comments from ARTSPACE Executive Director Iga Janik, who generally acts as a spokesperson for the broader Peterborough arts community:

Artspace director Iga Janik expressed concern that Del Mastro is too inexperienced and not involved enough in the local artistic scene to handle the file: "I don't know how qualified he is considering I don't see him at any of the cultural institutions or events in Peterborough," Janik said. "In light of all the cuts to the arts that the Conservative government have made, Del Mastro and Mr. Harper have a big job ahead to rectify the situation."

Janik made reference to the $34 million dollars in arts funding cuts. That's how much the Conservative government cut to cultural and heritage granting programs such as the Heritage Sustainability Program, Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund and the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector on the eve of the election. Moore has since announced the Harper government has no plans to reverse those cuts. What's more, the spin-cycle of carefully crafted political messaging about arts funding has started up again.

The strategy is consistent with what we saw before the election -- attempt to confuse Canadians by talking about the entire Canadian Heritage budget, which includes arts, culture, sports, and recreation funding -- rather than sticking to the arts funding portion of that budget when arts funding is being discussed.

Here's Del Mastro quoted in the Peterborough Examiner (November 8, 2008):

"I'm proud to say that no government in the history of Canada has put more money into the Department of Canadian Heritage than ours has, that includes direct funding of arts and culture and promotion of arts and culture in Canada."

This kind of political double-speak does not bode well for Del Mastro's relationship with members of the arts community, local or national. Why not just talk about what you've actually spent on the arts -- and just the arts -- when that's the issue on the table?

Here's the thing. Artists are a tell-it-like-it-is kind of crowd with very finely tuned spin radar. They don't have a lot of respect for double-speak and carefully crafted political messages that dance around the truth

That's why musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers, singers, songwriters,  and every other kind of cultural worker you can think of rallied behind Obama in the US election.

That's why musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers, singers, songwriters, and every other kind of cultural worker you can think of rallied against Harper in our election.

Oh yeah. One more thing. The anything-but-Conservative election strategy wasn't just about the funding cuts.

It was also about the lack of respect for Canadian artists and what we do; and Harper's inability to appreciate what Canadian culture is and what it means to Canadians. 

The good news is that artists are the cultural canaries. We're good at reading cultural, political, and social trends; and finding compelling ways to let people know that the canary is sick, dying, or in danger of being murdered by its keeper.

The canary has been being plucked of its feathers for quite some time. The canary can't go on like this much longer. Hopefully, it will only be a matter of time until the rest of Canadians decide they want something better for their country; that they can feel that sense of hope and renewal our neighbors to the south experienced last Tuesday night.

Until that happens, the artists will continue to paint, dance, film, write, and storyboard the visions of what was, what is, and what could be. Stay tuned.

Related:
Dean Del Mastro on public vs. private funding for Canadian broadcasters: Canadian Heritage Committee Meeting in June

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