Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The longstanding transparent criteria-based processes of arts grant decisions a great example to be showcased

The process around the federal government’s decision to award $33 billion in shipbuilding contracts to Seaspan and Irving Shipbuilding has been widely applauded.

In Ottawa, according to some Parliament Hill journalists, “the debate is over why future procurement contracts – such as that multibillion-dollar, fifth-generation, fighter-jet deal – cannot be structured the same way as the shipbuilding contracts.” Removed from the political realm, the process used was a points-based evaluation on an established set of criteria. It is seen as transparent and fair.

All of this sounds remarkably like the longstanding, well-established process of determining grants at the country’s arts councils:

Important cultural agencies, like the Canada Council for the Arts, or the Ontario Arts Council’s have a strong track record in making funding and granting decisions that are, for the most part, seen as fair and objective. In fact, in a ‘special examination’ of the Canada Council in 2008, the Auditor General of Canada commended it and said that ‘the Canada Council’s systems and practices have contributed to success in several areas.’

So why the sudden revelation in Ottawa and public policy circles that an objective set of criteria, administered through a process removed from political realm, renders good decisions? We’ll leave our readers to ponder that question.

Maybe though, those of us in the cultural sector, should blow our horns just a little louder when it comes to demonstrating the transparent administrative effectiveness and sound policies of the organizations that invest in Canadian arts and culture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tourism and culture in the minority legislature: steady as she goes

Markham MPP Michael Chan will continue as Minister of Tourism and Culture in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s minority cabinet, unveiled 20 October 2011. He is one of just a few ministers remaining in their previous portfolio (despite no new faces being added to Cabinet).

Minister Chan’s reappointment will bring stability and predictability for the sector. It also suggests that the government will be staying the course on cultural files, holding steady to past accomplishments with little in the way of new initiatives. Any cultural announcements will almost certainly be filtered through the ‘jobs’ lens, the dominant priority of Premier McGuinty and his colleagues.

The stand pat position of the Ontario government was evident in this fall’s election, when, for the first time, the Liberal party did not issue a stand alone cultural platform, as it has done since 2003. Rather, the Liberals stood on their record. Citing a $4.1 billion investment in the cultural sector since 2003, the Liberal’s indicate that ‘creative-industry jobs have increased 15% - representing 39,000 jobs’.

Jobs results like this will be helpful to holding the sector in good stead as the Ontario government looks to contain its costs and address the fiscal deficit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ontario election: the implications of cultural policy silence

The way politics happens in Ontario has changed.

Gone are the days when sectors could engage political leaders and parties in meaningful dialogue and discussion to better understand their perspective on the issues affecting them. Nowhere was this more evident than in the decision of Ontario’s two leading political parties to decline participation in a roundtable dialogue with the Ontario NonProfit Network last week.

The same is true for the cultural sector. Barely a whisper has been heard on the contribution and potential of this sector, despite its impressive contribution to Ontario’s economy. (The cultural sector accounts for over 4% of Ontario’s total employment, or over 252,000 jobs for the province).

This means that going forward, the arts, heritage and cultural industries have little sense of what the future holds in the way of cultural policy, regardless of which party forms government.

There’s no question that broad policy initiatives, such as deficit reduction, will impact the sector; but the policy lens which will inform these decisions is unclear.
* Will audience access be the priority, or will it be opening up international markets?
* Will there be a download to municipalities, or will there be continued strong provincial investment?
* Whither the Entertainment and Creative Cluster?

These are just some points to ponder, with no compass to provide a guide.

As the cultural sector looks ahead to working with the next government, whatever stripe, it will want to consider how it engages with government on these broader cultural policy questions.

Leaving it only to happenstance is unlikely to yield the best possible results.