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Arts cuts and "ordinary people"

This Magazine Staff

The YouTube Video above, an English-subtitled version of a French Quebec-made video about cuts to arts funding by the federal government, is closing on 100,000 views, and the original has been viewed more than 400,000 times.
The unlikely trajectory of arts and culture as a wedge election issue is worth examining. Since the $45 million cuts in arts and culture funding were first announced, arts and culture groups have been organzing, talking amongst themselves, and hunkering down for a long fight with the Conservative government that has made it clear that cultural spending is not a priority. But despite anger among artists and some cultural workers, the cuts seemed to have little resonance with most voters.
Popular French musician Michel Rivard’s video above has put the cuts on the electoral agenda in Quebec, where “culture” is an even more loaded term than in Anglophone Canada, wrapped up as it is with Quebecois identity and notions of a “distinct society.” Stephen Harper, up until yesterday, had been doing an impressive job of ignoring the whole thing: there was nothing to be gained on Conservative stumps by talking about the arts.


For some reason, that changed yesterday. At his campaign stop in Saskatoon, Harper said that “ordinary people” weren’t interested in arts and culture funding, and that artists at “a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough” were off-putting to Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Canadian. The content of his remarks isn’t too surprising — it’s a pretty standard wedge-issue talking point that the U.S. Republican party perfected, and their Canadian admirers have increasingly adopted — but it puts the issue on the table, and the reaction has been swift and fierce.
The Conservatives have more to lose than to gain by bringing up this issue. The people who agree with the PM’s remarks were already going to vote for him. Many more people see the cuts to arts and culture as emblematic of everything that is appalling, small-minded, and economically backward about conservative (and Conservative) ideology. So my question is this: why did the Prime Minister choose to bring this issue up now, and what does the Conservative party hope to gain?

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