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Atwood vs. Harper

Margaret Atwood says the Harper Tories are out to “squash the arts into the dust,” CBC reports. “They basically just hate us,” she says in an interview with CBC Radio. Criticizing the government’s cuts to arts funding, Atwood makes particular mention of the elimination of the $11.8-million public diplomacy fund, which the Foreign Affairs department previously used to help finance the export of Canadian cultural products and to help Canadian artists attend international events. She argues that an industry that contributes so much to the Canadian economy deserves more government support.

“When selling artistic things abroad, that money comes into Canada and is taxed in Canada, so it’s a net gain for Canada,” she said.

“Would they like to guess how much Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi generated abroad? Would they like to know … how much my foreign editions bring in? Would they like to know how much [Canadian producer] Robert LePage generates abroad?”

The timing of her comments might seem odd, a week after the Canada Council announced $33-million in new arts funding, but as a story in The Globe and Mail pointed out today, “the Conservative government scaled back a Liberal promise that the council’s regular funding would double from $150 million a year to $300 million. Instead, the Tories’ May, 2006, federal budget gave the council $50 million in new money as a one-time payment over two years.”

Atwood also drew attention to other funding needs. “Events such as the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre in Toronto bring in millions of dollars from international guests, she said, yet the centre is one of six Toronto cultural projects still awaiting a funding announcement from Ottawa.”

Atwood was speaking in Montreal, where she is about to receive the $10,000 Grand Prix at the Blue Met Festival, an event, which she said, also lost $150,000 in funding this year.