Minutes of special meeting on cuts to arts program posted

The minutes and transcript from the special August 26, 2008 to "discuss the recent cancelling of federal cultural financial assistance programs" are online.

This meeting was held when everyone pretty much knew an election would be called. This should be read as an election debate on federal government funding of cultural programs from some key politicians running for re-election. While Copyright wasn't on the agenda, it did get discussed.

Position of Liberals: "cuts being made shamefully, not to say hypocritically and viciously", "Mr. Manning proposed a subamendment to the 1995 budget saying that we didn't cut fast enough or deep enough"

Position of Conservatives: "difference between a cut and a reallocation", "$200 million increase over the last Liberal budget"

Position of Bloc: Conservatives being consistent in that they "abolished a number of programs that they said were performing badly or were poorly conceived."

Position of NDP: "There's no question that there were massive cuts during the 1990s, but I can tell you that these particular cuts that affect the commercialization and distribution of the arts, especially on the international scene, are absolutely devastating". "I'm sure they do care about arts and culture, but they care about the kind that they sanction."

Mr. Belanger made some suggestions of additional witnesses that included Michael Geist.

"Michael Geist is a professor at the University of Ottawa, and his take is somewhat different from that of the artist community. His take is that one of the programs eliminated, the digitalization of our collections, is an extremely important thing. It affects our competitiveness and our ability to present ourselves and our cultural product abroad. Even though Canada was at one time leading in this effort, we're now falling behind. The European Community, for instance, is investing $200 million to achieve some of that objective, whereas we're just nowhere anymore."

Mr. Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, CPC) tried to claim that C-61 would benefit artists. Those of us who have spent the time to understand the details of the bill and the actual consequences, and not just the spin from the government, will disagree. Not in this transcript, but I have heard politicians in the past claim that "stronger" copyright can be thought of as a substitute for government funding of the arts. Given only a tiny subset of intermediary-dominated commercially supported entertainment would be beneficiaries of copyright more tilted in their favour, we need to be aware of outcome of this cultural policy.

"I want to talk a little about Bill C-61 and how this government has moved to protect artists and conceptual property rights--to protect artists so they get value for their goods. That's something our government has moved forward on. Although the previous government signed on years and years ago to protect artists, they abdicated that responsibility and did nothing about it."
"Of course when I speak about copyrights and protecting the products of artists against theft really, obviously that's support for the arts. That's what we're talking about here. We're talking about how we support arts, promote arts, and ultimately this government's support for arts and culture. I understood that's what we were here to talk about today. Certainly copyright protection is critically important to our arts and culture sectors in Canada. That's why our government feels very passionately that we need to protect and balance that."

Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.)also spoke of Copyright:

"The Conservative Party wasn't in favour of neighbouring rights, if I recall correctly. The big push at the time was to bring in neighbouring rights so the royalties would flow not only to creators or writers of music, but performers. I remember that the Conservative opposition was against that.

Speaking of copyright, as we all know, the Conservative government is committed to seeing that bill dealt with in the industry committee, not in the committee that is most concerned about arts and culture in this Parliament."

Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.) spoke about how he wanted to see Copyright dealt with more quickly, and to have it studied by the Heritage rather than Industry committee. I strongly disagree with this as Copyright is primarily technology policy, not cultural policy. The justification for this policy is to benefit culture, but cultural policy is simply one tiny subset of the impacts of technology law such as copyright.

"On the matter of copyright, I agree with Mr. Del Mastro. It is an important issue. I had the privilege of being on the first round back in the late 1990s. I was involved with copyright. It seemed to be important to the government. Once they were elected, they said that they would bring in legislation in the spring of 2006. That was put off to before Christmas of that year. Then it became June 2007, and then December 2007. At that point the government actually gave notice of legislation, which sat there until June 2008.

Of course, it's not being referred to this committee; it's being referred to the industry committee. It's not even being referred to committee before second reading, so it further delays the process. Now the Prime Minister is apparently going to seek dissolution of this Parliament. That shows the importance that this government has attached to copyright, with all due respect."