Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a rare and very apt gift to give to the Australian people yesterday during his official visit Down Under, The Globe and Mail reports. This spring, a rare books specialist at Library and Archives Canada found, tucked into a scrapbook compiled by an eccentric 19th-century British banker, a playbill advertising a performance of three plays staged in Sydney on July 30, 1796. Presenting it at a lunch hosted by Australian Prime Minister John Howard at Government House in Canberra, Harper said:
“Now a 200-year-old playbill I think is quite a find in its own right, but what makes this one even more exceptional is that it is also the sole surviving copy of the earliest known … document printed in Australia,” Harper told the official luncheon guests. “I’m proud to return it to its right owners on this auspicious historic day when we are renewing bonds of friendship, celebrating our mutual accomplishments and vowing to work together for a better world.”
Val Ross’s Globe article went on to offer this analysis:
This was no doubt music to the ears of Canadian arts activists who have been protesting against the Conservatives’ recent $11.8-million cut to Ottawa’s cultural diplomacy budget.
And indeed, Susan Swan, Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, told Q&Q that she thought this might bode well for the arts. “Harper deciding it’s cool to support culture in Australia is a good sign because we want to change the federal government’s attitude to the arts.”
This Quillblogger doesn’t want to rain on everyone’s optimism; I certainly hope it does mean Harper is truly supportive of the arts, but it will take something more than this gift to the Australians to convince me – more interest in or increased funding for arts and living artists in Canada, perhaps. Although, author Yann Martel did get a response from Harper’s assistant about the books he has been sending the prime minister every two weeks in a private campaign to increase Harper’s appreciation of literature.
Dear Mr. Martel:
On behalf of the Prime Minister, I would like to thank you for your recent letter and the copy of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych. We appreciated reading your comments and suggestions regarding the novel.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to write.
Susan I. Ross
Assistant to the Prime Minister