We’ll always have the Canada Pavilion in Shanghai, at least: More on those cuts to arts and culture

As readers of yesterday’s Inkless comment thread already know, once ITQ got over our initial horror at the cancellation of the Canadian Memory Fund (thus destroying any faint remaining hope that we will one day be able to search every edition of Hansard since Confederation), we turned to the ostensible reason behind the decision to slash nearly $40 million from the arts budget. What intrigued us most was the explanation offered to the Globe and Mail by the now ubiquitous Kory Teneycke – who, incidentally, has managed in just a few short weeks to make himself the official Voice of PMO,  and as such, the government as a whole.

According to him, the cuts were made purely for reasons of efficiency, and not ideology – which was in sharp contrast to the defence he offered for the cancellation of the PromArt program last week, which he blamed on an infestation of leftists, rabble-rousers and rock stars. This time, it was all about the sound fiscal management:

When we find examples of programs that are clearly not meeting their objectives, without apologies we will cancel them. That is the entire purpose of Strategic Review. We owe that to taxpayers,” Mr. Teneycke added, calling PromArt “a boondoggle

What he didn’t offer, however, was any sort of evidence to back up his suggestion that these particular programs had “clearly not met their objectives.”

A search of the Audit and Evaluation database, which includes all completed evaluation reports and internal audits, turned up nothing relevant to any of the programs on the government’s hit list. We did track down last year’s client survey of the soon-to-be-cancelled Trade Routes program, which revealed a 67% overall satisfaction rate – although to be fair, it also found that its relative low profile had left it with an “identity issue,” noting that “it was apparent that many of those who are Trade Routes clients do not view themselves as such.”

Otherwise, though, our search for corroborating evidence came up empty, which forced us to turn to every Hill reporter’s least favourite mandatory government disclosure, the Main Estimates – specifically, the annual Reports on Plans and Priorities that every department has to file.

In last year’s report, the promotion of Canadian culture abroad was near and dear to the departmental heart at Canadian Heritage, as was the preservation of Canadian culture, including First Nations languages, and support for Canadian film and television and the “Virtual Museums” initiative.

This year, however, the priorities seem to have changed: Sports, anniversary celebrations, Winnipeg-based human rights museums, the Canada Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo and the Historical Recognition Program, otherwise known as apologies-with-money.

As far as the creation of Canadian content and performance excellence goes, two of the five initiatives involve investments in sports – the 2010 Olympic Games, and the Canadian Heritage Sport Fund, to be specific. The others – the “evolving” broadcast environment, copyright reform and a review of the Canadian Periodical Program are all statutory or regulatory, as opposed to the sports initiatives, which are money items.

As for the preservation of Canadian heritage, there is exactly one initiative listed: “Moving forward on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights”.

Under “Participation in Community and Civic Life,” three of the seven initiatives for this year involve anniversaries – Quebec, British Columbia and representative government in Nova Scotia, to be precise. There are also plans for more “recognitions” – with funding, of course – of historical wartime measures and immigration restrictions. (The results of one such attempt at recognition were on display earlier this month in Surrey, BC. )

There is also the all-but-forgotten Global Centre on Pluralism, which is allegedly poised to set up shop in the former War Museum, although the website hasn’t been updated for months. Not it’s likely that this has prevented them from cashing that $30 million cheque that the Prime Minister announced back in 2006, but as far as “ensuring that every individual – irrespective of cultural, ethnic or religious differences – has the opportunity to realize his or her full potential as a citizen” it’s fair to say that this particular objective has clearly not yet been met.

Finally, there is the price paid to ensure that the department’s activities are in line with public opinion. By which, of course, we mean polling. Over the last year and  half, Canadian Heritage has been busily trying to find out how Canadians feel about various anniversary celebrations, the human rights museum and – of course – sports; more specifically, the government’s contribution to sport, particularly the Olympics.

According to the numbers available through proactive disclosure and the Contracts Canada website (bet you thought we’d forgotten all about that one, huh, guys?), during the first six months of 2008 alone, Canadian Heritage has spent well over $1 million on opinion research. That’s a lowball estimate, since there may well have been contracts that, for one reason or another, haven’t yet been disclosed publicly.

That may not sound like much compared to, say, National Defence – but at the same time, if the government is looking to make cuts across the board, surely the department can do with, say, five percent fewer focus groups. Perhaps the money saved could be invested in media training for the eerily silent Josee Verner, who has been all but invisible since news of the cuts started to leak out last week.  Then again, maybe she’s otherwise engaged trying to track down something – anything – to back up PMO’s contention that this was all about waste and inefficiency. Let us know how that works out, will you, minister?

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