Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The impact of the HST on Ontario's cultural sector: is there time to influence its implementation?

Last week, The Arts Advocate Report hosted a Policy Dialogue for subscribers on Ontario’s proposed Harmonized Sales Tax.  The subject of much political debate both federally and provincially, the actual reality of what this will mean for Ontario’s cultural sector is just starting to dawn.  It’s clear that there will be significant revenue implications, at least for the medium term.  The impact of these on Ontario’s cultural sector is not widely understood in many circles including government.  Adding to this is the complexity of Ontario’s cultural sector, making it difficult to generalize, or fit in a specific box.

The evidence presented by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s staff makes it clear that the new tax regime will benefit lower and middle class Ontarians, while resulting in a small increase for higher income earners.  Recognizing the relatively low incomes of Ontario’s artists and cultural workers, the proposed HST should be welcome. 

For producers, institutions and the many small businesses and self-employed individuals though, the implementation and roll out of the HST poses challenges.  There is real concern that there will be revenue erosion (or financial cost) as many fear that consumers will not accept an 8% increase in ticket prices, gallery admissions or subscriptions, at least in the medium term.  For a sector that operates on the edge of financial solvency, with little price elasticity in this current economic environment, this signals problems. 

It could also mean that much of the recent Ontario government investment in cultural agencies like the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Media Development Corporation could be negated as cultural organizations grapple with how to deal with anticipated revenue loss,   a reality that has not been considered.

The window for the cultural sector to have any influence on the implementation of the HST is small.  While the introduction of the new harmonized tax regime is largely a foregone conclusion, there is still time for the cultural sector to put forward recommendations to ease any potentially difficult impacts of its implementation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Post

Welcome to The Arts Advocate Report’s new ‘blog’. The blog is intended to encourage informed dialogue and debate among cultural policy makers and watchers, with a focus on Ontario. Like the Report, it will provide timely, balanced commentary on the policies and politics affecting arts and culture. It will also allow The Arts Advocate to point to other important research and initiatives that the Report can not cover.

The blog will complement, not replace, the Report, Updates and Policy Dialogues that subscribers have come to count on over the past 15 years.

The fall of 2009 is shaping up to be a heated and volatile environment for all policy watchers, including those of us focused on arts and culture. We look forward to an interesting dialogue, now and into the future. We hope you join in.

Looking forward

Both the House of Commons and the Ontario Legislative Assembly have resumed. The events of the past few weeks suggest that it will be anything but sleepy sessions in both houses. Heightened expectations about a federal election call later this month, or early October, and media-fuelled perception of flagrant misspending across Ontario agencies are serving to derail substantive progress on a number of files.

In Ottawa, this means that substantial cultural files, like amendments to the Copyright Act, are unlikely to go anywhere. The subject of yet more consultations over the past summer, it’s clear the likelihood of any substantial progress on the outdated copyright legislation is virtually impossible, despite promises from the Government.

In Ontario

Ontario cultural agencies have been spared inclusion in the list of agencies which will now have their expenses overseen by the Integrity Commissioner; equally important, none have been identified as flagrant spenders. That said, one can count on increased vigilance and a whole new level of scrutiny on every dollar spent. The ramifications of this will ripple throughout the cultural sector.

The new Intellectual Property Fund, given life in the March 2009 budget, could be unveiled in the context of the Toronto International Film Festival currently underway. Add to that the welcome Ontario investment of $10 million in TIFF’s new Bell Lightbox, and it’s already been a good year for the Film Festival.

Ontario’s Tory Culture Critic – Passing the torch from Julia Munro to Ted Arnott

This session of the Legislature sees longtime PC culture critic Julia Munro pass the torch on to Ted Arnott, MPP from Wellington-Halton Hills. Munro was respected as a credible, sensitive and approachable critic for the cultural sector, one who was open to listening to the concerns of the sector from a truly interested perspective.

Long time MPP Ted Arnott is not totally new to the Culture portfolio, having already served as Culture Critic for one year, from 1994 to 1995.