Politics - Federal

This Ordinary Working Person Supports the Arts

By Jason Leach
Published September 24, 2008

Much of the current, unnecessary election campaign has been fairly boring, and for good reason. It's hard to drum up excitement when everyone already knows what the outcome will be in an election called as more of a personal war between political parties (whom I would love to see abolished someday, but that's for another discussion).

However, a quote today from Stephen Harper caught my attention:

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people," Harper said in Saskatoon, where he was campaigning for the Oct. 14 election.

Now, by ordinary does he mean people like you and me, or people living the high-life on the public fund in Ottawa? Hmmm, I wonder.

I consider myself ordinary, in a good way. I work full-time, have an incredible family and am blessed with great friends and a great church.

I am a drummer (yes, that counts as a musician) and have a great affinity for history and architecture. All three of these pastimes can be considered artistic, I guess, but I'm no Picasso.

There's plenty not to like about this quick rant from our PM. I admit to getting a kick out of the sentence referring to ordinary folks coming home to watch 'publicly subsidized' artists on TV.

It's not as easy to spout off about 'public subsidies' these days when the US is attempting to toss a pretty $700 billion subsidy at the richest people on planet earth.

Furthermore, I wonder how Mr. Harper assumes that all of these "ordinary people" got home from work? On a subsidized highway, perhaps? Or a subsidized transit system (albeit, not subsidized to nearly the same extent as the aforementioned highway)?

I didn't realize we still had politicians so willing to fudge words and phrases like this in order to paint an image in the public's mind. I mean, this is the same party that upped the annual oil industry subsidy from $1.5 billion to 2.4 billion when they first took office.

I guess some of the public are still easily swayed by such rhetoric, but I digress.

The real issue here is the arts. A wise man once said, "nobody goes to Paris and Rome to enjoy all the nicely paved highways and roads."

We spend thousands of dollars to travel to these world-class cities to enjoy their rich history, architecture, arts, entertainment and culture. If we were really going to these places to check out the fabulous highway infrastructure, we could save some money and take an exotic vacation in Amherst, NY or Mississuaga.

A recent study into Canada's arts community crunched some numbers and showed that for every dollar of government money pumped into the arts, it generated $3 in return. That sounds like an investment, not a subsidy.

I'm not sure if there is a more sinister motive behind the scenes. I get the impression that it's simply another case of a politician being completely removed from real society.

This is true of all of them (although Elizabeth May is earning some brownie points by taking VIA Rail across Canada).

Canada is woefully behind most other comparable nations when it comes to arts funding. In Hamilton, one only needs to wander up James North to see how vital the arts can be in our everyday life and society.

Real estate values are up, stores are renovated and occupied, crime is down and new businesses are moving into the area thanks to the recent influx of art ventures and artists.

It would seem to me that some well-planned government investment into an area like this would be much more preferable than spending that same government money on extra police and property standards officers in an empty, decaying urban neighbourhood.

What does it say about our society when we prefer a newspaper headline reading, "Government to invest $50 million into crime and policing improvements" instead of "Government investing $50 million into burgeoning, vibrant arts district downtown"?

It says a lot about our politicians, but it probably says even more about you and me.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

17 Comments

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 24, 2008 at 11:41:33

You're right - It's an 'election about nothing'

As for the arts, you are right on all points but, sadly, this will never become a wedge issue. Keep quoting crime stats, keep us scared and then promise to protect us, that's the way to win an election :) (Next step capital punishment...)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 13:32:20

"I didn't realize we still had politicians so willing to fudge words and phrases like this in order to paint an image in the public's mind."

You've totally nailed it. This little rant was dog whistle stuff for the base. If he came right out and said "elitists" or "Hollywood North liberals", everyone would know that he was taking a page right out of the Rove/Republican playbook so he uses weasel words instead. You have to remember this is the party that consulted with Republican strategists before the last election. Seems Harper learned his lessons well.

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By David (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 14:07:30

Wow, great article! Although I'm artistically challenged in every way myself, I can still appreciate Canadian culture and undertsand the need to help presrve our cultural heritage & help our current artists flourish.
You make great points, and I sincerely hope someone uses this article as a Town Hall type question during the Debates. Stop Harper in his tracks, or have him refer to people who enjoy the Arts as 'un-ordinary'.
If there is anyone who is out of touch with Canadians, or 'ordinary folks', it's not Stephane Dion or Jack Layton or Elizabeth May... it's Stephen Harper and his group of tight-lipped, off-the-wall extremists he has labeled as candidates.

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By Sharpie (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 14:10:21

That's it, David, what you said! He's trying to play the "elitism" card, but Harper actually insulted Canadians by talking to the "ordinary working person" as if they're not sophisticated enough to enjoy or appreciate the arts. I hope it backfires on him.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 14:30:39

Most artists are losers who can't get real jobs and need to steal money from the honest taxpayer to keep from going hungry. You want to support the arts? Do it with money out of your own pocket. Don't take money out of mine.

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By Another Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 15:17:32

I'm a capitalist (small business owner), and I support funding for the arts. It's a good investment, that pays for itself in new economic activity. Tell me capitalist, do you also think parents who send there kids to public school are losers who can't pay for real schools and need to steal money from the honest taxpayer to keep from being uneducated?

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted September 24, 2008 at 15:34:05

I'm against government funding not because I'm against the arts, but because I'm for small government. Let me keep my money in my pocket so that I can support the arts myself. I don't need a bureaucrat to decide what kind of art has value. I'll do that myself, thank you very much.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 16:05:31

gullchasedship, would you also be ok if the government decided that certain freeways weren't worth their moey...say, the 401 or QEW?? Would it be fine for only users of those roads to pay for them and nobody else?? Careful what you wish for.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:14:14

Jason, haven't you been advocating that people who use roads should pay for them through tolls? Like the Red Hill. So people who use roads should be paying for them, but we all have to pay for artists who can't sell their work in the private marketplace. Please let us what your priorities are and how you rank them because you appear to be all over the map.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:22:51

no, I haven't been advocating anything. I'm merely reminding people of how society works. Too often we get stupid comments like the one above suggesting that artists are subsidized losers. Yet, the very people making those comments enjoy things everyday in their lives that are also subsidized. I realize human nature is absolutely selfish and greedy, but you can't have it both ways - no government investment for anything other than what you want. That's not how society works.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 11:50:17

Jason, so by your comments above can I assume that you DO NOT support tolls on the Red Hill and never have?

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 15:02:33

Considering what a High Saskatoon & Saskatchewan are on lately in T.V. & film production, I'm surprised that he would say that there.

(Actually No I'm Not Surprised! The ignorance & self-satisfied rudeness that spews for from these people on an almost daily basis should leave no ignorant comment as a surprise.)

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 15:46:28

Another thing..What kind of t.v. does Stephen Harper have? Magic Cable perhaps??

(I've never seen any 'rich galas' with 'rich gala' people on my t.v. These are private fundraisers & are not shown on t.v.)

If people want a Canadian Film & T.V. Industry in Canada, it's NOT a particularly good idea to remove or cut Arts funding from Universities, Colleges & Applied Trade Schools that will give young people the tools to work in these fields. Maybe he'd rather just import the 'refined product', just as we import our own oil & gas from U.S. refineries?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 16:05:54

Maybe journalists should ask him what 'rich galas' he's referring to that all these 'ordinary working people' are supposedly tuning into the moment they get home. If he's going to smear Canada's hard-working artists, he should be compelled to provide examples to justify his smears.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 17:03:07

capitalist, I've been remarkably consistent in my stance re: tolls or no tolls. I can only assume that you're asking me this question to keep from discussing the real issues at hand. Regardless, for the last time - as long as transit users pay a fare to board, drivers should pay a toll to drive. No highway tolls are fine too....as long as we axe transit fares.
I'm not sure where the money would come from for all of that (maybe the government can bail everyone out) so it would seem logical to have tolls and transit fares. Cheers.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 23:54:44

I think 'Capitalist' is confusing 'The Arts' with visual artists.

(The term starving artist came from somewhere & not from Gov. subsidies!) Visual artists & musicains work hard & are freequently underemployed to do their craft. If we were all as pragmatic & greedy as the Harper Set, there would be no original visual art, or music coming out of Canada. What exactly has Capitalist got against Art & Music?
The Arts as Harper refers to it is film, t.v. & all the hundreds of skilled & not so skilled people that are employed in both the actual production, post production, distribution, & marketing of the production. It also refers to the writers who create the stories, or adapt them to suit the production format.
You have everyone from costume designers & seamstresses, to carpenters, joiners, scene painters, computer effects tech's, musicians, truck drivers, caterers,& many more.
Now tell me if we enclude the companies to sell the raw materials, goods & services to make t.v. or film -
How can you tell these people that they are artsy-fartsy parasites?
Every single thing that is used by Stephen Harper & Capitalist from the secong they wake up in the morning to the time they go to sleep involves at least one Artist or industrial design artist. Sheets, towels, razor, comb, clothing, shoes, socks, car, bike, & everything in their work environment.
If these people have such contempt for 'The Arts', then they should stop wearing expensive suits, designer shoes, & stop driving elegant cars. They should immediately remove all the portrature from 21 Sussex Dr., & remove 21 Sussex Dr., too cuz somebody 'Designed' it.. An Architect!

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2008 at 07:53:50

The key elements are found in the first sentence:

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV ..."

From that little tid-bit we know something of the audience Harper's addressing. He is not in the company of "ordinary working people," and it is most likely that the audience is composed of many of those who orchestrate the 5ymPhony of 5Lime which 00zes out of a TV when it's turned on and mucks up our homes.

Ryan made an interesting comment though:

"I recently read about an experiment in which a group of people were each given money ..."

Ordinary working people are not "given money," they usually toil for it and wouldn't be spending it in the same way as a gift. The contestants in that experiment weren't all revealed to us in Ryan's post but enough information was given to assume a university pole was used to advertise the event. It is also safe to say that economic graduate students are pretty much just plain ordinary, the working part hasn't fully set in yet.

Harper is letting us know that the arts funding is being wasted at the top, and that the ordinary working people are not getting back what they're putting in. Their kids are tagging properties instead of painting Picasso's because of what they saw on TV and didn't learn in school. That's pretty general I know, but you'll get the picture, lest thou art amok and all soul in the muck.

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