Sarah Polley and Bill C-10

James emailed and asked why I hadn’t written about the Conservative government’s recent cuts to cultural programs. In truth, I kind of missed that whole debacle. Plus, it looks like they’ve been sufficiently raked over the coals for that one.

It’s an odd move, because up to now it seems to me that the Harper government has been relatively benign on cultural funding. I certainly remember deeper cuts from other Conservative governments. And their cuts only amounted to less than CAN $50 million. Was saving that money really worth all the grief they’ve suffered in the media? Or maybe it’s meant to be a gesture to their base?

Section 120 is a Joke

I have, however, been meaning to criticize the Harper government’s planned Bill C-10. That link goes to the CBC’s rather critical analysis of the proposed legislation. If ever you wanted an example of the CBC’s liberal bias, there it is. Here’s a summary of the problematic section of the Bill:

The issue that concerns Canada’s film and television community is Section 120, which would allow the Heritage Minister (currently Josée Verner) to withdraw tax credits from productions determined to be “contrary to public policy.”

The minister would create a set of guidelines for film and television producers. The guidelines have not yet been established but would cover violence, hatred and sexual content in film and TV productions, or anything else the minister believes should not be financed by Canadian taxpayers. Committees within the heritage and justice departments would be charged with vetting productions and implementing the guidelines.

In essence, the legislation gives the federal government carte blanche to bypass existing vetting mechanisms to deny funding to cultural works of which it disapproves. On top of infringing on free speech (even this conservative agrees with that), it will have a chilling effect on the kinds of movies which get made in Canada. Would The Boys of St. Vincent or Eastern Promises have been made in a Bill C-10 world? It’s worth mentioning that the Liberals had similar plans to restrict arts funding. It was a lousy idea then, and it’s a lousy idea now.

Poised, Disciplined and On Message

But don’t listen to me on this. Listen to the excellent interview (MP3) that Sarah Polley gave on CBC a couple of months back. If you’re ever going to advocate in the media for a cause, this interview is essential listening. Ms. Polley is incredibly poised and disciplined, articulates her position clearly and remains on-message. She never needlessly attacks the Harper government, nor does she sound like some hippie artist who’s making porn on the taxpayer’s dollar. She makes an impassioned but rationale and professional defense of her stance.

I so often see advocates of environmental and social causes on the news, and they waste their sound bite on lame, slightly nutty critcriques of whoever they’re railing against. Plus they’re frequently dressed shabbily and look frumpy. That sounds trivial, but in a world governed by televisual aesthetics, it’s not. I don’t care if you’re just back from a week of protest and bongo drumming in Clayoquot Sound. Shave, comb your hair and put on a suit before you go on TV.

On a related note, I was amused by this quote from a story about a new Canadian-content pornography channel on satellite TV:

“I think as Canadians there is a bit of a tiredness in seeing all American stuff,” Shaun Donnelly, president of Real Productions, said during an interview on Friday.

“There is always that thrill for something that is local and you get the sense that these are people you can meet at the supermarket.”

It just struck as the most ludicrous quote to offer. We can finally enjoy Newfy accents in our porn? Is that really a priority for Canadians?


  1. Bubbles Galore ruined it for everybody.

    In conflating defunding with “infringing” on free speech, you are redefining rights, and rather badly.

    Here’s a not-very-hypothetical question for you: should the minister be held responsible for the kind of projects the ministry funds?

  2. Actually, I didn’t mean to conflate them. Both are cultural policies and associated in my head, but practically speaking they’re different matters. I’d meant to transition from one to the other. I’ve added a subtitle to help clarify.

    To answer your question: no. There’s a quizzical practice in politics to blame the minister for everything that transpires in their ministry. I suppose controversies need a head to put on the stake.

    As I understand it, traditionally, there have been various bodies–Telefilm, Canada Council and such–that decide how to fund cultural projects. I don’t know how the boards and committees of those organizations are assembled, but I assume it’s not strictly by political appointment (or I would probably have heard more complaints about it).

    It’s those organizations, and specifically their committee members, who should be held responsible for funding decisions.

  3. Hm…

    “(even this conservative agrees with that)”

    To revisit the rights versus funding issue, I examined the link there. I do not think it means what you think it does.

    The lawyer who wrote it is being a bit oblique (not to say obscure), but their point is that funding of any kind makes institutions vulnerable to (constitutionally defensible) funding perils when the political climate changes.

    The author’s thesis is that the Conservatives are violating their conservative principles by keeping any funding at all, and that it is the funding (not the lack) that makes the dependent institutions vulnerable to having their speech “infringed.”

    I have to go now; my blogging grant application is due soon. 😛

  4. I have always been dismayed by how many left-wing activists, as you note, take their opposition to The Man so far that they eschew general standards of politeness, plain language, and appearance — and thus lose any opportunity to make their point. Points I often agree with.

    Worse, right-wing activists usually *do* want to and continue to play the game (perhaps because it’s the game they’re part of), and that’s part of why the influence of the left has declined in recent decades.

    In other words, if you want Anarchy Now, it might be better if you dress up a bit so you can maybe actually get Anarchy Later.

  5. The biggest problem Anarchy Now has as a popular philosophy is that it’s unpleasant regardless of the clothes it wears.

    It shares this deficit with most other fringe causes across the political spectrum.

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