Monday, September 29, 2008

Now That's More Like It...

...But did Harper blink?

Over the past few days, Canada's opposition parties have been hailing the beginning of a "culture war".

It's ironic that a hallmark of extreme right-wing activism in the United States could be trotted out by Canadian left-wingers with so little protest from Canada's left, but one digresses.

With numerous polls suggesting that the focus on Harper's $50 million cut to arts funding may have been hurting his campaign -- particularly in Quebec -- Prime Minster Stephen Harper today promised to introduce $150 million in tax credits for parents of children enrolled in arts programs.

"The credit will apply on up to $500 of eligible fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts activities. This tax cut will encourage and make it easier for parents to give their children the benefits of activities such as music classes, drama or arts classes, and the parents will save money on their taxes," Harper said.

"For some children participating in arts, dance and drama classes these will be a fun and enjoyable activity. For others it could be the beginning of much more -- a life long interest or career."

In some cases -- notably, dance -- the tax credit would double with the already existing fitness tax credit.

Yet, at three times what the cut programs cost, one may wonder if this is merely an effort on Harper's behalf to regain some lost momentum in this election campaign. In other words, one wonders if Harper really cares about the arts, or if this program is merely another cynical attempt to garner votes.

For another thing, the program doesn't seem to go far enough. A good conservative arts program should include not merely tax credits for children to get involved in the arts, but also tax credits for those who would be interested in being patrons of the arts.

Many Canadians have long objected to tax dollars being used to support mediocre artists. If the Conservatives were bold enough to propose such a program, those Canadians could choose to support any artist they judged to be worthy of support and recieve a tax credit.

There certainly those who would suggest that artists should fund themselves and treat art as art, rather than as a vocation. After all, that's how Berthold Imhoff did it. Yet these individuals are certainly overlooking the fact that the modern-day Canadian artist doesn't have a personal or family fortune, as Imhoff did.

Art doesn't pay well enough to pay for the bills. While it certainly could be said that this should be incentive for some artists to seek a new line of work, there are many Canadian artists producing work of value that deserves to be supported.

Making it sensible for Canadians to support artists on a case-by-case and individual basis makes sense in this particular vein.

The new program is a step in the right direction, but not quite far enough. And many Canadians will wonder if Harper really is the "steady hand" he's portrayed himself as.

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