Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Friday, September 12, 2008

Welcome To The Welfare State

I wrote last time about how I wanted to see this community of ours - this brilliant, special thing that seems to have arisen - flourish and prosper.

Sometimes in order to do that - to see something that you love grow safely - you have to make choices that aren't always easy. Sometimes you have to stand up for and defend the things you love no matter the consequences.

You have to protect them.

This is, quite honestly, one of the easiest decisions I've ever had to make. And I do it because I cannot, in good conscience stand by, silent, as this next election threatens everything my life has been about for the last year - let alone the future potential for literally hundreds of thousands of my fellow Canadians.

Now I've written my fair share of letters to the Government over my short period of being involved with the Canadian Film and Television Industry and I feel that there really isn't much left for me to say that I haven't already said.

And so, rather than focusing on contacting the Government, I want to focus on contacting my fellow writers - apprising them of the situation we're up against.

You see, we Canadians love to downplay things - to shrug them off. It's something that seems bred into us - it's how we cope - but I believe that the current climate and the current situation is one that we would do so at our own peril.

Now, more than ever, we have to mobilize and educate ourselves because time and time again it's been shown that if we don't no one is going to force us. And it is only our own apathy and ignorance of these situations that allow them to fester and bloom into full-blown nightmares.

Together 50,000+ Canadians managed to stall Bill C-10, an omnibus bill in which the Conservative Government had slipped amendments that would've given one person (in this case, the Heritage Minister) the ability to allow or disallow Canadian Tax credits for films based off of 'public policy' (whatever that is). It also would've granted them the ability to retroactively pull the credits from films that they believe do not fit 'public policy'. This was accomplished due to the tireless efforts of people writing letters and being in contact with the people who run our country - in this case the opposition and the Senate.

An event like this is one that must call every single able writer, director, editor, actor, producer and more to the forefront. I believe as writers, that is what we must do, because that is WHAT we do. We are the ones with the mastery of language and cadence and tone. It is us who must make the battle cry and inspire others to rise to the cause.

And I know it's a hell of a lot to ask for those of us who are new, who may not know where to begin, but hey, you gotta start somewhere - might as well start by defending your right to have an industry to break in to.

If it seems that my language is heavy-handed and all doom and gloom; if it seems like I'm taking this far too seriously - it's because I am. And hopefully you and others will too.

I have written a letter - again, I would direct it toward my fellows, the amazing writers I've met and the many, many more that I haven't - I would ask that you all, please, take 5-10 minutes out of your time and write to your Member of Parliament, to your Senate, and to your friends who may not have an idea of the threat that stands before us.

You can find a handy mailing list here (compiled by the great people at the 'Keep your censoring hands off of Canadian film and TV! No to Bill C-10!' Facebook group).

And you can also get involved at the "Say No To Stephen Harper and His Cuts to Arts and Culture" Facebook group.


Welcome to the Welfare State
By Brandon Laraby

"Canada is a northern european welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.' - Stephen Harper (http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/leadersparties/harper_speech.html)

Now, I could begin this letter by saying something snide. I could say all the things that are rumbling around in my mind – they’re not very nice.

But I won’t.

Instead I will let Prime Minister Harper’s words speak for themselves.

I will do so because I believe that this is an essential look into the mind of the man running our country. And I use the word 'running' in the scariest sense as his first run at a 'minority' government played out much like the majority government he craves (and hopes to secure by this snap election).

Backroom deals, wanton funding cuts and secret legislation slipped - unread - into omnibus bills - this behaviour and more has gone on around us while most Canadians slept, content with their paltry tax cuts.

And yet to those of us who were forced awake by these slaps in the face, a certain clarity has been bestowed: if you are not PM Harper's vision of a 'worker' in this country then you are a part of the problem.

It seems like some sort of unspoken policy – or perhaps something far worse - as right from the beginning and on a consistent basis, we have been under assault from our own Government: The Canadian Television Fund, Bill C-10, Bill C-61, The recent slashing of NSI Funding, the Canada New Media Fund, PromArt, Trade Routes, the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, the Canadian Memory Fund, Canadian Culture Online.

If you think that the worst is over, do not kid yourself. This is what they were able to accomplish with their 'minority' grip on this country.

In funding cuts alone over $60 million has been taken from us and not replaced - with no mention or hint of new programs. Where has the money gone? Where was it moved to? Certainly $60 million is a lot of money to miss and there may be even more to come. If the CRTC accepts the CTF Taskforce's recommendations the Canadian Television Fund will be split, further limiting the monies available - monies that were already far beyond strained.

Now I could stray into the economics - the fact that we're the second largest landmass in the world housing the population of the State of California; That we simply do not have the kind of free range capital necessary to support this market by ourselves; That without Government support our industry and infrastructure will crumble even more than it already has.

I could bring up other points and say that comparing ourselves to the American market - a population of 300+ million to 33+ million - is easy without an understanding of what that entails. That even in a best-case scenario with one half of their richest 1% feeding and supporting the industry that still leaves 1.5 million people who are easily clearing the $250,000 a year mark in the US. In Canada we're talking 150,000-ish people - people who, to me, seem far more likely to have their money invested in other markets.

But again, I won’t. Instead I will say to you simply this: beware the fate that would befall us. Beware the apathy that would betray us; Us artists who some would call 'lazy' or say that we're 'looking for handouts' or would 'bleed the system dry'. Us artists who would dare to use our own Tax money to create and drive an entire industry that entertains and serves Canadians and their interests around the world; Who employs Canadians and pays Canadians and supports Canadians.

Because, make no mistake, this is our election to lose. For, like no other time in our lives we face a threat of the most massive of proportions, one that has turned its disdainful gaze upon us and decided that we are not 'necessary'; One that would endanger not only our livelihoods but the entire Canadian Cultural Sector.

I will not tell you how to vote. That is not my wish or intent.

But I will tell you this:

If you work or hope to work in the Canadian Film and Television Industry, if you work in the Canadian Cultural Sector period - as David Cronenberg once wrote, back in a movie called The Fly:

'Be afraid. Be very afraid.'


Rich Baldwin said...

Two points in the argument against cutting arts funding:

-Decreasing arts funding tends to take money away from the artists who are struggling, and leave it in the hands of the small group of very good grant writers who don't really produce anything. It makes grant writing more competitive, which leads to better grant writers. Not better TV, film and new media writers.

-If there isn't money to start up as an artist here, a lot of artists may decide that there's a more congenial environment for their work in the States. So a pile of artists who could have been paying taxes in Canada (sales taxes if nothing else) are now paying those taxes to the US government. Some of them will become famous or at least influential . . . as Americans. How much of their influence will they be able to use to strengthen Canadian culture? In LA most people have no clue what's going on in the rest of America, much less in Canada.

Elize said...

The one thing I would warn about it -- and this is rhetoric across the board -- is staying away from us/them diatribes.

We end up with what we have now with regard to who deserves the funding and/or where it'd be best received where the argument really is that cutting the funding to create a fake surplus for the election.

As well, though arts are important to us beyond the cultural sector the economic impact may be the place to focus :)

One small niggling note: though I don't particularly like PM Harper, by pushing it down to "Mr. Harper" it's verging on insult in political letters. If we want to make a difference it's best to not let little things (those things that people love to focus on rather than the issues) stand in the way.

One final comment -- to check out some of the "other side" via comments check out the CBC's webboards. It can be incredibly frustrating what's on there, but it gives a good vantage point into what people think on the subjects.

Brandon Laraby said...

Hey Elize,

Thanks for your points, though I tried pretty hard not to write it as an 'us/them' diatribe - instead more along the lines of a wake-up call for those who know little to nothing about what's going on - especially other writers and people in the industry. I'd hoped that my letter would get others into doing their own research and writing their own letters to the Government and the opposition.

Yes, I could have gone more in-depth into the economic impact and other topics but, honestly, that was not the kind of letter I was trying to write.

As for switching from PM Harper to "Mr." Harper, I hadn't meant it as a slight - I didn't even know that it bordered on insult (I think I've always called him 'Mr. Harper' - though that might explain why he never responded to my letters...) I'll edit the letter to change that.

If you'd like to post a link here so that I and others can get a view of the 'other side', that would be much appreciated.

And absolutely (please) write a letter of your own, go into the economics or whatever you feel I've missed with my attempt. As this was what I was hoping to push for anyway.

Thank you for your insight and taking the time to read it!