Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ontario's report on the economy's long term prospects -- the place of the broader cultural sector

Ontario released its long term report on the economy last Friday, a report designed to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing the province over the next 20 years.

The report provides an extensive in-depth look at the many factors and influences expected to affect Ontario going forward. Chief among them of course are demographic shifts, the changing global economy and increased competition from rapidly emerging economies.

It’s nice to see that culture, more specifically the digital sector and parts of cultural industries, are expected to continue playing a key role in Ontario’s economic prospects. Acknowledging that Ontario’s economic success is “increasingly dependent on knowledge, creativity and innovation” the buzz words ‘du jour’, Ontario’s Long term report on the Economy notes that entertainment and creative services are expected to lead job creation and output growth over the long term. Pointing to digital media, and film and music production, the Report suggests these sectors will continue to be strong global competitors.

Where this leaves the rest of Ontario’s cultural sector is not addressed. The Report does make clear that the Ontario government sees cultural tourism as an area of significant potential, pointing to the Province’s cultural attraction agencies. The combined impact of smaller institutions, museums and arts organizations across the Province is not acknowledged in the Report.

The juxtaposition of creative industries and cultural tourism in this report is consistent with the outline of Culture Minister Michael Chan’s new responsibilities as outlined by the Premier. The resulting challenge for heritage, arts and smaller segments of the cultural industries, the part that provides texture, richness and colour to Ontario, will be to ensure that Minister Chan and the Ontario government continue to see and understand the full scope of cultural activity across the Province and the contribution it makes in every corner of Ontario.

It’s a tall order for the cultural sector in the current fiscal and policy environment in Ontario and Ottawa.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ontario’s cabinet shuffle: re-amalgamating Culture and Tourism

Ontario’s cultural sector will be looking hard at the meaning of the re-amalgamation of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Premier Dalton McGuinty's announcement did not provide any clues to his rationale for his decision: No link was made between culture and tourism, despite the potential to do so. His decision probably has as much to do with the current focus on cost-cutting and fiscal prudence as it does with policy alignment. After all, the position of Deputy Minister has been vacant since the summer, with the Acting DM, Tourism’s Drew Fagan, seen as doing a good job.

The long term implications of the re-amalgamation will be contemplated for months, even years, by the cultural sector. There was genuine happiness that Culture merited its own ministry. That said, many in the sector wondered if that decision actually side-lined the importance of the sector, despite the identification of the Entertainment and Creative cluster as one of the economic pillars to drive Ontario forward.

Aileen Carroll was well-liked by the cultural sector and seen to be a supportive proponent. There is no question that she was successful in delivering some significant increases in support to the cultural sector, particularly in the last Ontario budget. Going forward though, it’s a different scenario in a different time. Much of last year's funding is one-time, with some signficant programs up for renewal.

Minister Michael Chan will have his hands full. The Province hails tourism as a major economic driver, but has yet to deliver much in response to the major recommendations made by Greg Sorbara, former finance minister, in a far-reaching report early last year. The Premier’s statement on the cabinet shuffle could certainly lead one to surmise that Minister Chan’s focus will be on the tourism side, with cultural industries being the second thought. Where this leaves the other parts of the cultural sector is an equally open question.