September 28, 2008
Dear Mr. Harper
I am pretty sure that I am an ordinary Canadian. I've checked the Stats Can website, and other than the fact that Joe and I earn a little less than the national average and seem to have picked up an extra kid along the way, we're really, really ordinary.
This is why Sir, I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn that you had made a statement that the arts "don't resonate" with "ordinary Canadians". I had suspected, after your 45 million dollars in cuts to the arts, that they didn't resonate with you... but all ordinary Canadians? I listened as you lashed out at artists, claiming that we stand around at "rich galas" complaining that our subsidies aren't big enough, and I could hardly speak. Although Joe and I both work in the arts, we've never been to a gala (though I hear that your wife is honorary chair of the National Arts Centre Gala) and although we both pay taxes, we've never received a subsidy or a grant... so I'm really not quite sure what you're talking about.
Joe and I added up the number of people we know working in the arts. It was virtually everyone we know (with the exception of our friends who work in Health Care, but that's a debate for another day) and not a single one of them are as wealthy as you, although most of them pay more taxes. Sorry. That was cheap. I'm still mad about your tax breaks for the richest Canadians. I'll try to get a hold of myself and stick to the facts.
The fact is that last year your government invested 3.3 billion dollars in the arts, which would be shocking except for the fact that (as reported by ACTRA's national president Richard Hardacre) the arts returned the favour by providing 1.1 million jobs within cultural industries and contributed $86 billion to the GDP. To put that in context, Margaret Atwood noted that the arts industry employs roughly the same number of Canadians as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities - combined. I see you Sir, day after day after day, talking quite rightly about jobs lost in manufacturing and the industries named above and how our country needs to make financial investments in their businesses to create as many jobs as we can, and dude... you're absolutely right. Job loss in Canada is a huge thing and boy, should the leader of this country ever be trying to prevent any further loss any way he can... and Mr. Harper... that's what makes your cuts and your statements so darned confusing to me.
I've thought and thought about it, and I've come up with some possibilities for why you're doing what you're doing.
1. You are trying to lose the election, and throwing away the votes of 1.1 million "ordinary" taxpaying Canadians by trashing them, their integrity and their industry in public is just the beginning of your master plan. (In which case Sir, I can only say "AWESOME START.")
2. You had no idea that the Arts industry was an actual industry (I mean, not like cars or oil) or that it employed that many Canadians, and when you walked off stage after making your statement, you had to ask someone why your entire campaign staff was lying on the floor seizing in a pool of their own cold sweat.
3. You're still sort of scarred about that day in kindergarten when the teacher said that Bobby's fingerpainting was nice and didn't say anything about yours, and then on top of it he got the be the carrot in the school play when the teacher knew you wanted to be the carrot and would make a way better carrot than him and ever since then you just haven't been able to see what the big deal is with the whole art thing.
4. Maybe Gordon Pinsent has always sort of annoyed you and this is a revenge thing.
5. You made a strategic decision to say that. You sat down and decided that there were an awful lot of Canadians (a lot more than 1.1 million) who would really, really want to stick it to artists. You figured that there must be an awful lot of voters who don't read books, don't go to the movies, don't listen to CD's, don't dance or watch dance, don't read magazines or newspapers, don't listen to the radio and wouldn't touch the TV with a ten foot pole and therefore don't have the arts "resonate" in their lives.
(Well. That or you were hoping that there were a whole lot of Canadians who didn't know about the 1.1 million jobs/ $85 billion dollar industry thing or were hoping they were stupid enough to be tricked. Good luck with that.)
Some time ago, when I made a political comment in this space, someone said to me that if I were going to state my political position publicly - even if I did so without condemning the views of others, that I should expect to lose the support of people who didn't agree with me. They felt that if I said I wasn't a conservative (or a whatever), that I should expect to lose the readership of conservatives (or whatevers). This person maintained that simply not being on the same page politically was enough to justify not continuing to support me professionally. This is a position I was absolutely stunned to read and still don't understand. I feel that politics belong in public. That ones political positions are a reflection of ones moral and ethical concerns, and that as long as no-one is condemned for their views or insulted for their beliefs, that everyone wins when politics are discussed in the pubs, kitchens and blogs of the nation.
That's something I've kept in mind as I listened to your speeches throughout this campaign. I reflected on how your political positions were reflecting your ethics, and kept a clear head - listening to your positions and promises. I stuck to my position, which is that it is possible to disagree on matters of personal choice while still liking, respecting and enjoying the people with whom you debate or disagree, and I believe that it is unchecked politics, unexamined policy and an unconcerned nation that let politicians run amok and invites corruption of all forms. In short, Mr. Harper... I think that the cornerstone of all good politics is respect. Respect for positions that run counter to yours, respect for jobs that are not like yours, and in this case, respect for all Canadians.... especially as you ask for our votes.
I would submit, Mr. Harper, that suggesting to all of Canada that a particular 1.1 million Canadians who have helped to pay your salary for the last several years and whose money you would like the privilege of continuing to spend, are not "ordinary Canadians" is the absolute definition of disrespect.
Further to that, claiming that you represent "ordinary Canadians" (we'll overlook the number of galas you're at in a year) while the 1.1 million of us who are working in film, music, writing, dance... are not only excluded from your definition of "ordinary Canadians", but according to you "don't resonate" with the people who are.... Well. I think it was rude. Darned rude. The Canada that I thought I lived in doesn't have some Canadians who are worth the efforts of the Prime Minister, and some Canadians who are not. The sort of Canada I want to live in has always had a society based on respect, the respect we are supposed to show each other and the respect that leaders are especially expected - or maybe owed to give their constituents was entirely absent in your statement, and a leader who is that rude to his fellow Canadians, boldly and in public - isn't observing the cornerstone of civil and progressive politics... respect.
In light of that, and remembering that ones politics are a reflection of ones morals and ethics - I'm afraid that not only have you lost my vote (Oh, fine. You didn't have it anyway) but greater than that and with every cell that I posess... I humbly withdraw my respect for you as a leader, and submit that there's just got to be a lot of "ordinary Canadians" who feel the same way.
(PS. I am going to consider it seriously hypocritical if you keep playing music at your events, hiring writers for your speeches and getting graphic designers to make those pamphlets that keep landing in my mailbox. If art doesn't resonate... they why are you using so much of it? Just saying.)
(PPS - For the Non-Canadians who are thinking "huh?", Mr. Stephen Harper is our Prime Minister, and the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. During our last election he formed a minority government, winning 124 of 308 seats, and 36% of the popular vote, which means that roughly 2/3 of voting Canadians didn't vote for him or his party, and chose an option to the left. (There are no options to the right of Mr. Harper.) This is possible because we have a multi-party system. Mr. Harper and the other party Leaders, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois (a federal party that only runs in the enormous province of Quebec), Stéphane Dion of the Liberal Party, Jack Layton of the NDP and Elizabeth May of the Green Party (I'm leaving out others, but they don't hold seats in parliament) have been campaigning since The Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogued Parliament earlier this month (that's sort of like dissolving the current session so they can start fresh with a new government after the election) and calling an election for the 14th of October. (We do it fast.) In Canada, we don't have set dates for an election. We hold them whenever the party in power thinks it would be a good time or they run out of time (at least every five years) or whenever a government loses a confidence vote (which is essentially like getting fired.) We have no term limits - you can be Prime Minister for as long (William Lyon MacKenzie King served a total of 21 years as Prime Minister) or as little (Sir Charles Tupper was Prime Minister for 68 days) as the Canadian people allow you to serve.