Open letter to Mr. Harper

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I doubt Harper reads my column but in case he's looking for arts news, I received this letter today from Chris O’Neill

Open Letter To Stephen Harper

Your recent quotes about the relationship of “ordinary Canadians” to the cuts to the arts your government has made were a cynical play to the lowest common denominator in disparaging other ordinary (usually low income) Canadian taxpayers who also happen to be artists. Your recent comments and the cuts themselves must be countered on two fronts.

First I ask you to recognise that artists are an integral part of the community both in the social and economic life of Canada. In my own rural Nova Scotian community there are professional artists of all disciplines: actors, writers, visual artists, craftspeople and filmmakers, theatre companies and an international arts centre. The artists and arts administrators here are people who get up and go to work and pay taxes, take their children to school, to soccer, hockey and piano practise just like any other Canadian, but they also do the job of reflecting our community and country both to ourselves and to the world. This is not harder than other jobs, but it is lower paying and has fewer benefits than most others. Even with small investments from governments at all levels, most artists in Canada live well below the poverty line, with no EI, no health benefits, no job security. They do this for love and because they want to help define what it means to be Canadian. Many artists I know cannot even afford cable to watch those gala shows you describe.

Second, the programs being cut and I believe the danger now of much deeper cuts if there is a majority conservative government have nothing to do with that mean-spirited profile of gala awards shows with rich people whining about subsidies. I do not believe Canadians will be fooled by the cynical choice put forward between the arts and health care or education. There are many places your government could look to find funds, and to pits arts vs. health or education is a false choice. From a financial perspective, the arts have a massive impact on the economy (with low environmental impact). The very programs being cut are some of those that ensure that our economic contributions continue to bring in export and tourism money, which should surely a priority of any fiscally responsible government. Communities with a strong arts presence attract higher paid professionals and increase the wealth of those communities. From a social perspective, there are decades of research to show that arts education at an early age has a massive positive impact on the social, emotional and intellectual development of children. Older people involved in the arts have fewer medical problems and stay active longer than those who are not. The arts are not in opposition to health and education, they are a vital part of them.

When we go to war, we are fighting to preserve or promote our values, values that are reflected by or challenged by the artists of the day. When we are proud of what it means to be Canadian, we are proud of those art works or artists who have successfully shown us something of ourselves. I applaud my Quebec colleagues for their passion and their action, and want them to know that all across the country English Canadians also care about national culture. In your comments you are trying to divide the country between some Canadians and others, all working for a living and all part of the fabric of makes this a great nation. Through your comments, you have made me feel that even though I pay Canadian taxes, raise my 3 children in a rural community and run an institution dedicated to Canadian culture and educating Canadian children, that I am not a part of the Canada you envision. I now fear that vision of Canada and I believe it will make us all a smaller people in a small-minded nation. Sincerely,Ms. Chris O’NeillExecutive DirectorRoss Creek Centre for the Arts.Canning, NS

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