On Tuesday I spoke at the Status of the Artist legislation announcement. I did so somewhat reluctantly and only because I thought I could use two of my allotted five minutes to say something in defence of literacy, libraries, and the fantastic cultural institutions that are under threat from the provincial government’s make-believe commitment to the arts.
Yesterday, I woke up to find this article in The Telegram riddled with inaccuracies, the worst of which were the misquotes. Let's get something straight. I am NOT a cheerleader for the Status of the Artist legislation. I am NOT a cheerleader for the provincial government. When I was asked to give a reading at the announcement, I very nearly said no.
To his credit, the reporter was mortified when I pointed out all his mistakes and we worked together on the correction that appeared in today’s paper. But it made me decide that it was time to say something more pointed and specific.
There is nothing wrong with legislation that commits to treating artists fairly and professionally. But I am skeptical of a government that lauds culture with empty words while chipping away at it with its actions. A government that supports culture doesn't try to sneakily drop it from the ministry's name. A government that supports culture doesn't attack literacy by closing more than half the province's libraries and slapping a tax on books. And a Minister who is committed to culture doesn't say at a press conference, as Mitchelmore did on Tuesday, that books by mail are just as good as a bricks and mortar library. (No they are not. NO. NO. NO.) The government can crow all they like about the importance of culture but unless they create an environment where books and visual art and theatre are valued and supported, it's just hot air.
This province is running headlong into a capital D Depression. We have massive debts we can't pay back. We are bleeding young working-age people. We are saddled with a boondoggle called Muskrat Falls that will cripple us. Austerity is inevitable. I get it. I know. But I also know it's bullshit to slap a tax on books with one hand and give Ed Martin a $1.4 million dollar parting gift with the other. It's bullshit to threaten to close more than half the libraries, citing lack of funds, and then turn around and pay a private company to write a report on the future and viability of said libraries. If there's money to pay private industry for make-work reports, if there's money to build a massive hydro-electric dam so mining companies can get cut-rate electricity, then there’s money for a library in every town and outport. Private industry, oil and gas, Muskrat Falls, Ed Martin’s retirement, they are not the only ones that rely on government subsidies. The arts need resources too.