Harper might win a majority by cutting arts funding... and we artists are helping him do it.
Don't ask me how I feel about Harper's cuts and his outrageous comments. I'm as hurt and and angry as the rest of you, but there are more important issues here than my feelings. Or yours.
As a political maneuver, this was brilliant. (er... diabolical?)
Harper had to deal with a couple of small problems: he was being attacked by all the party leaders on a number of issues and he needed to consolidate his base support while, at the same time, attract swing voters at the centre of the political spectrum.
Regionally, he was working long before the writ was dropped with massive pre-election spending in order to warm up the electorate. Conservatism at its most basic level (I thought) is against taxpayer's money being spent like this, especially on frivolities like a UFO sighting commemoration.
As the economy gets worse and worse during this campaign, he looks like he's doing his due duty in managing the economy by cutting "frivolous" arts funding. He tells artists that we have to "stick to a budget."
Now these cuts were made a while ago, but they didn't receive a lot of press. But we as artists must challenge them. Because we're constantly under attack. And the arts need to be defended. And so Quebec artists, bless them, use the Gemeaux awards to shame Harper and the ideology behind these cuts. But unfortunately, outside of Quebec, this plays right into Harper's hands.
He calls us "fat cats" and says we live in an "ivory tower." He says that the furor over these cuts won't resonate with "ordinary Canadians," i.e. regular folk that work hard for their money, not like them bum artists living on the taxpayer's dime, the worst kind of corporate welfare. (Ick.)
All of a sudden the arts (for the first time that I can remember) have become a major election story. Let me tell you why, in my opinion, this is not a good thing for artists.
What has been accomplished here? Let's take a look:
1) Harper has consolidated his core support. Even those who may have felt alienated by his concession on Afghanistan, can rally around on Harper on this issue. These cuts are ideological in nature and appeal to many of the same voters who support life sentences for children.
2) Harper hasn't lost any support from the centre spectrum voters; in fact, he may have gained some traction. Think about it: we're an electorate that is having trouble understanding the Green Shift. Trying to explain how cuts to programs that send artists overseas are a bad thing... is damn hard. Unfortunately, Harper's comments about artists being "whiners" is ringing true (at least in English Canada).
3) The left still remains split. While artists have succeeded making a lot of noise about the value of art, we've only been denouncing Harper and we haven't thrown our combined weight behind a different candidate that will champion the arts. And we, just like the rest of Canada, remain divided into camps of ideological or strategic voters.
4) The other major parties have jumped on the band wagon. As passionate as I am about the arts, the pragmatist in me knows that it won't win an election. So while this is a major election story, it's not an election issue. But all the other party leaders think they smell blood in the water, and at this point, are desperate for any conservative weakness that might have some traction. This is not it.
The two major election questions are the economy and Harper. He has made the election about these issues, and the more the other leaders are sidetracked away from them, the more this plays in his favour. Especially if they continue to be unified in their pro-arts, anti-Harper response... if there's no distinction, then there's no mending of the left-of-centre split.
Now I realize that Harper needs Quebec to form a majority, and yes, cutting Quebec arts funding IS actually a major election issue... in Quebec. But in BC and especially in Ontario, it's the economy stupid.
So what do we do about it?
1) Keep making noise... but be strategic. This election is about Harper. He's coming to us in a fuzzy sweater and trying to woo the centre by claiming he makes common sense decisions for the good of Canada. But THIS decision is steeped in ideology. Same as his crime bill. This is a pattern: what journalists like to call a narrative. (He's also being mean about it - another narrative). This is the narrative that we must promote: if he follows far-right ideology on the arts and crime, then what does this mean for health care? Education? WHAT WOULD HARPER DO WITH A MAJORITY??? (You get the idea.)
2) We have to back one of the other parties. Any one. But we have to consolidate our vote. This is a tremendous opportunity: the other leaders are listening. What can/will they do to consolidate our vote?
E-mail this post to every artist you know. There's still time...