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A country’s culture defines its national identity. But Stephen Harper says that ordinary Canadians don’t care about the arts, and that government must avoid “funding things that people actually don’t want.”

Over the last three years, the Harper government has attempted to muzzle our culture industry. But Canada’s fiercely talented artists have come back swinging. If anything, Harper’s comments have reminded “ordinary Canadians” just how much culture does matter.

While Harper dismisses cuts to culture as a “niche issue”, a series of rallies, town hall meetings, political performances and internet campaigns have presented a loud and unified voice against the Conservatives. So loud, in fact, that this just might be the niche issue that pushes an elusive majority government right out of Harper’s grasp.

What the Conservatives have done to culture:

$45 million in cuts

A series of federal funding cuts came on the eve of the election campaign, without any formal consultation with Canada’s artistic community. While Harper claims the cuts are meant to free up cash for “ordinary Canadians”, revenue figures from the cultural industry would tell us just the opposite: according to the Conference Board of Canada, arts and culture generated almost $84.6 billion, or 7.4 per cent of our gross domestic product. Just in case there was any question that the cuts weren’t ideologically driven, world-renowned progressive journalists Gwynne Dyer, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis were called too “left-wing” and “radical” to justify funding from PromArt, an artists’ travel support fund.

Bill C-10

As an omnibus bill amending the Income Tax Act, the Conservatives argued that they could use Bill C-10 to refuse tax credits for film and TV projects considered overly sexual, violent or hateful. But there are already strong laws in place for pornography and hate crime under the Criminal Code. Many Canadians immediately saw the bill for what it really is – government censorship. “To me, that is totalitarian, which is what we would expect in Beijing, perhaps, but not Canada,” filmmaker David Cronenberg has said about the bill. Bill C-10 was passed by the House of Commons and is now before the Senate.

Bill C-61

The Conservatives were set to introduce this bill last December, but decided to withhold it after grassroots organizations bitterly accused the government of attempting to introduce harsh, American-style copyright laws. Under Bill C-61, those caught downloading music or video files illegally could be sued for a maximum of $500, and uploading a file to a peer-to-peer network or YouTube could result in lawsuits of $20,000 per file.

What you can do to fight back:

Visit www.departmentofculture.ca to find out how you can make the arts an election issue in your community and beyond.

Get involved. Department of Culture has a lot going on: