Jacques Bensimon Headshot

Why Chop Down the Arts?

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Last week, the federal government announced in its budget spending cuts of $5.2 billion, the plan to remove 19,200 jobs, and raise the age of eligibility for retirement benefits at 67. The stage was thus set by the Harper Conservatives for the next three years.

Faced with such drastic sums, it is true that the amount of $191 million to Heritage Canada -- including a $132.3 million cut to three federal agencies involved in the film and TV industries -- seems to disappear before the enormity of the stakes.

This government has chosen a cut of 10 per cent to the budget of the CBC, Telefilm, and the NFB.

Let us analyze these figures more closely to better understand their impact on these three institutions. On a budget of $1.1 billion, CBC will be cut by $115 million. It is clear that faced with such an impressive sum, even being the most creative in the world, the CBC had no choice but to cut its staff by 650 positions. It will probably cut its news department as well as its prime time programming both in French and in English.

Telefilm is facing a more complex challenge, cutting $10.6 million on a budget of $110 million is far from easy. This comes at a time when our national cinema and its filmmakers are showing us that they are reaching a maturity unmatched in our history.

As for the NFB, which have had its budget diminished by successive cuts, it must now find $6.7 million in a budget of $67 million. It will siphon the money by cutting 73 positions and closing its viewing facilities both in Toronto and Montreal. This will result in affecting the very fibers of this organization, which had just taken a major shift towards new technologies.

The worst thing is to see that this government moving in the wrong direction by attacking directly the very values ​​it defends.

Why? Contrary to a widespread notion in some quarters, our three institutions do not live in ivory towers far from the real world. For at least three decades, they have become indispensable partners to the private film and television industries in our country.

Long before the concept of "public-private" partnership had become ​​our government's panacea, co-productions ventures between private production companies and our three federal institutions had become commonplace.

Today, the audiovisual industry in Canada is estimated at $7.46 billion, creating over 128,000 jobs from lighting designers to writers, producers to filmmakers. This radical diet of more than $132 million will change our private audiovisual industry forever.

Certainly, our three agencies will integrate their cuts in-house by reducing and eliminating some of their key activities. By contrast, the private industry will have no alternative but to look elsewhere for the shortfall that they will suffer as a result of these cuts.

- Who will then co-produce your favorite CBC drama series?
- Who will invest in our filmmakers who are increasingly recognized internationally?
- Who will co-venture with the NFB into new technologies?

Moreover, these three public agencies, unlike private broadcasters, have strict mandates of investors and talent scouts who are the future creative wealth of our country. By cutting their funds, the Harper government is attacking the very root of their core mandate: being a public service to all Canadians. Large private groups have no obligation for this type of mandate. If market forces or ratings do not create profit, they will be the last to invest in Canada's emerging artistic talent.

In conclusion, on budget cuts of $ 5.2 billion, why has the federal government targeted these three federal agencies? The only logical answer is that these cuts are purely political and ideological. This chainsaw massacre is going to hurt our agencies, but much worse, it will cut the legs of our booming production industry. The entire cultural sector will suffer.

It is time to see Ottawa's politicians from all parties stop using the arts as a political football and realize that culture is a profitable industry comparable to any other.

What's more, culture carries our images at home and around the world; such values ​​can not be bought and they have no price.

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