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Election 2019: Where do local candidates stand on the arts?

By Jane Litchfield

To help you be informed for the October 21 federal election, Guelph Arts Council asked local candidates from the four main parties to answer a few questions about their position on the arts. The Guelph candidates are Ashish Sachan (Conservative), Steve Dyck (Green), Lloyd Longfield (Liberal), and Aisha Jahangir (NDP). Their responses, unedited, follow.

You can also check for party platforms on the arts via The Canadian Arts Coalition.

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1) What do you see as the role of the arts in our community?

CONSERV: The arts play a vital role in our community. Numerous art installations downtown, the Art Gallery of Guelph, and local artists show that Guelph has a vibrant arts community.

GREEN: The arts connect us to beauty, health, and life. Seeing in a new way is key to the joy of surprise and innovation. Hearing in music and spoken art connects us to each other and gives meaning to the challenges of being. Experiencing the arts is key for children discovering who they are. For me, the arts invite us to transform struggle into joy, making room for more connection, and better health. The arts cultivate a vibrant city, one that inspires positive transformation for individuals, and in fact, for our community as a whole. Our sense of wellness is something we grow one experience at a time. Art is a practice that connects us to the beauty and wholeness that is inside each of us. Art is attractive - we love to sing, dance and see visual art. Guelph’s vibrant art scene brings tourism and business here.

LIB: Growing up music was always a big part of my life, when I was in university, I learned a great deal about leadership and about feeling enabled by my accomplishments. With a degree in English and Mathematics, and diploma in Mechanical Engineering Technology I consider the arts as an important part of developing the whole person. The arts play a vital part in developing critical thinking, reducing stress and increasing socialization by bringing the community together to share creative expression. The arts are also an important part of our community's economy and tourism industry and provide employment for many Canadians across the country. When I attend the Jazz Festival, the Guelph Youth Music Centre or a performance at the Guelph Little Theatre or the Guelph Art Gallery I am always inspired and motivated by our local artists. Having served on the Board of the River Run Centre, I also experienced the complexity and importance of providing a space for the arts in Guelph.

NDP: Arts and culture are at the heart of who we are as human beings. It’s how we listen and understand each other better. It’s how we connect across vast distances and celebrate our identities. And in such a diverse country, it’s how we share our incredible stories with each other and with the entire world. In Guelph, artistic events are unique connectors. We are lucky to live in a city with so many artistic leaders who are creating festivals and performances and ideas and movements that bring people together for common causes. The arts in Guelph are unifiers, both in terms of identity and of political vision. I am inspired by the messages that have become more and more common in Guelph through the arts -- protection of public waters, uplifting of Indigenous rights, appreciation for tradition and heritage. It all works together to help build solidarity and dignity in our differences.

2) What challenges to you see artists facing and what should the role of the federal government be regarding the arts?

CONSERV: As a result of Liberal policies, Canadians now pay more for sports and arts programs for children, home heating, housing, and much more. Hard working Canadians are making the choice between paying for the basic necessities of life and putting the next generation in sports and arts programs. A Conservative government will work to keep more money in the pockets of Canadians, allowing them to invest in the growth and development of the next generation through involvement in the arts.

GREEN: If you were to ask an artist in Guelph what their greatest challenge is, a common response would be to find space to show their work in collaboration with other artists. The Federal government must take an active role to promote Canadian art and culture, accomplishing this must include supporting artists, being vigilant towards challenges that make artists vulnerable. Artists provide tremendous benefit to society and they need to be fairly compensated. Inconsistencies in paid work and a lack of stability can be a source of stress. Irregular pay can also create challenges for safe and affordable housing; therefore it is essential that we support these challenges to which artists are especially vulnerable. Our digital world has placed increasing pressure on Canadian artists as they strive to earn a living, as they compete globally. Furthermore, traditional media are withering from small markets due to a combination of digital and on-line competition and corporate concentration of ownership. The Federal government must develop a strategy that can ensure fair compensation, income support, access to housing, mental health services and protection of a marketplace which prioritizes Canadian content.

LIB: In today's ever changing market, the renumeration of artists in the digital age is a very significant challenge our Canadian artists now face. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Canadian artists to make a viable living in the arts. I am concerned that the arts are being undervalued as people do not take time for the arts in our very busy lives. The Federal government needs to further support Canadian expression, protect Canadian intellectual property and assist in exporting Canadian art and developing new markets for arts worldwide. I heard first hand in the recent study we conducted in the Industry Committee in the House of Commons about the very real challenges that artists now face. The digital reality of art today provides a real challenge for renumeration with platforms that allow for streaming and real issues with payment for performances and rights management of their work. If re-elected I will continue to be a champion for the arts both locally and across the country.

NDP: After decades of cuts, a rapidly digitizing media landscape, and government inaction, Canadian arts, culture, and jobs have been increasingly put at risk. Most Canadians now get their news from Facebook and Netflix is the largest broadcaster in the country. But these web giants don’t pay the same taxes, or contribute to funding Canadian content in the same way that traditional media do. Canadian film, television, and media is up against a tidal wave of well-funded American content, but the Liberals have not taken adequate action to level the playing field. Emerging artists suffer the pains of the gig economy and other forms of precarious work, since their contributions are often under-recognized and underpaid. A New Democrat government would help artists fulfill their visions by making our economy work more fairly for everyone, with a living wage, pharmacare and single-payer dental care, and more affordable housing.

3) What will your party do, specifically, to support the arts and artists?

CONSERV: A Conservative government will work make life more affordable for all Canadians. By putting more money in the pockets of hard working Canadians they have the freedom and ability to support the arts, and their local arts communities.

GREEN: I will ensure that artists are supported as integral to the green economy. In Guelph, we have the talented leadership of the Guelph Arts Council, whose mission is to champion artists’ rights, embracing diversity, accessibility, and respecting the role artists have in influencing social change. As your MP, I would make all efforts to ensure that the mission of The Guelph Arts Council is supported in the best ways possible. The Green Party is dedicated to supporting the arts in ways that make sense. A strength of the Green Party is that it exists to respond to, and inspire all that is good for the planet, especially when it comes to advocating for sustainability and the future well-being of our children and grandchildren. Artists have a vital role to play in calling us to attention in this domain. Just look at the work of artists like acclaimed Canadian artist, film maker, Ed Burtinsky, who, from an airplane and with the support of drones, has created visual art that documents a planet in desperate need of support and advocacy. Guelph is in process of revitalizing its downtown core through public art, supported by federal, provincial and municipal infrastructure grants. I will advocate for future funding.

LIB: The Liberal government will continue to provide funding to CBC, a vital communications network for all Canadians. In our first budget, we pledged $675 million to the CBC which included $75 million in new funds for the rest of that year and an extra $150 million annually through 2021. The Harper government had forced the CBC to cut hundreds of jobs and plan for further reductions in service. Under the Conservative Government the CBC would not exist. We have doubled of the Canadian Council for the Arts budget to $360 million to ensure that artists can continue to take part in learning opportunities and access special funding. As MP, my work on the Industry Committee included completing a copyright study, with the Heritage Committee which we will use to bring forward new legislation if re-elected. This study ensures protection and remuneration as well as addressing the value of Canadian artists. In this study I heard from artist across the country as well as many local artists and I will continue to work diligently to ensure the we protect our artists and support them with funding for infrastructure for community arts facilities.

 NDP: The NDP will support a strong, independent arts and culture industry. We think artists should be able to earn a decent living from their art and that government has an important role to play in making sure that a diversity of Canadian voices tell our stories. That’s why we will step up to make sure that digital media companies play by the same rules as Canadian broadcasters. That means paying taxes, supporting Canadian content, and taking responsibility for their platforms - just like other media outlets. We’ll also increase funding for CBC and Radio Canada to help reverse the damage of decades of funding cuts under both Liberal and Conservative governments. I hear so frequently that Guelph is a hidden gem. This funding would mean we get more national media coverage in Guelph, so the rest of the country can get to know us better. We will make sure that arts and cultural institutions receive stable, long-term funding to grow and promote Canada’s diverse cultures and histories. The arts also have a vital place in reconciliation. An NDP government will provide financial support for Indigenous theatre as part of our larger efforts to honour and support Indigenous arts and culture.

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