Lost in translation

Speaking with reporters following a campaign event in Saskatoon earlier today, Stephen Harper was asked, in English, about his government’s decision to cut funding for the arts:

[…]You know, I think when  ordinary working people come home, turn on the tv and see a  gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that  resonates with ordinary  people. Ordinary people understand we  have to live within a budget. We have increased culture. We haven’t increased anybody’s budget without limit, so we’re not going to do this. I think this is a niche issue  for some, but that’s my view […]

Which, moments later, produced the following question, asked (and answered) in French:

Good afternoon,  Mr. Harper. I was listening to you speak English earlier, and you said  that artists do not attract much pity, when they wear long gowns at gala evenings. Could you perhaps repeat what you said in French, and do you  believe that artists are spoiled, Mr. Harper?

HARPER: It’s always a mistake, I think, to  generalize about any group […]

Especially when counting on Francophone voters, some of whom may take great pride in seeing Quebec artists celebrated by their peers – provincial, national and international – even when it happens at a “rich gala”.

The rest of Harper’s response, during which he fails to answer the question about whether he believes artists are “spoiled” — possibly because he saw what happened to his Heritage Minister when she ventured down that path:

But, of course, as I have said  a number of times, budgets for the arts went up by 8% during our mandate, and many Canadians did not get a wage increase of 8%. And I think that the vast  majority of canadians  understand that we have to be  realistic, that we have to consider not only the demands  being made by certain groups,  but the entire economy, the  entire budget, and the needs of all the population. And that is what this  government is doing. This government has supported arts and culture, but it’s  true that we did not increase them without limit. And that’s the reality for a  government, and it’s the same thing with the other parties. If the other parties were in government, their policy would  be the same, because the  figures are a reality that you  have to manage when you’re a government.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.