OTTAWA – The federal government will cancel a program today that sent artists abroad to promote Canadian culture because the program’s grant recipients included “a general radical,” “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank” and a rock band that uses an expletive as part of its name.
Canwest News Service has learned that the Conservatives are cancelling the $4.7-million PromArt program administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade because most of the money “went to groups that would raise the eyebrows of any typical Canadian,” said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The move is sure to provoke a backlash in the Canadian cultural community, already angry at the federal Conservatives for tinkering with the funding criteria for other arts programs, most famously for pending legislation which would prohibit federal funding of films and television shows the government might find offensive.
The cut is part of an ongoing government-wide review to cut spending but the department’s PromArt program became an easy target when senior Conservatives discovered that some recipients of taxpayer-funded foreign travel were “not exactly the foot that most Canadians would want to see put forward.”
The recipients singled out by the Conservatives include:
– $3,000 to Toronto-based experimental rock band Holy F— Music for a week-long tour of the United Kingdom.
– $5,000 was given to former CBC broadcaster Avi Lewis, who now works for al-Jazeera and who is described in a Conservative memo as “a general radical” to help pay for his travel to film festivals in Australia and Argentina;
– $16,500 to send Tal Bachman, a bestselling recording artist and the son of The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman, to South Africa and Zimbabwe for music festivals.
“I think there’s a reasonable expectation by taxpayers that they won’t fund the world travel of wealthy rock stars, ideological activists or fringe and alternative groups,” the source said.
Bachman, Lewis or representatives of Holy F— Music could not immediately be reached.
But the program also funded travel to promote what many Canadians might consider “mainstream” Canadian art. For example, the Canadian Museum of Civilization received $50,000 to help defray the costs of taking an exhibition of Inuit art to Brazil; the Royal Winnipeg Ballet received assistance of $40,000 for a U.S. tour; and former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache received a $3,000 grant so he could travel to Cuba to give a lecture about the Canadian Charter of Rights.
The Foreign Affairs website said the grant program “provides funding to Canadian artists and arts organizations for the promotion of Canadian culture abroad, in alignment with Canada’s foreign policy and trade priorities.”
More than 300 grants were awarded in 2006-07.
Among those who received a grant was author Gwynne Dyer, who received $3,000 to help him travel to Cuba for a series of lectures. The grant program’s annual report said Dyer’s funding application was approved “with the expected results of creating greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy … within key audiences of Cuban decision-makers and opinion-leaders.”
But the Conservative talking points say Dyer is “a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.”
The Conservatives also dismiss a grant given to The North South Institute, a non-profit foreign policy think-tank, that received $18,000 in federal travel assistance so its representatives could attend a conference in Cuba.
The North-South Institute is “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank,” the Conservative memo said. “Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-western conferences in Cuba?” it asked.
Other artists and groups to receive federal funding for foreign travel assistance in 2006-07 were:
– Comedian Andy Jones received $11,000 for an Australian tour; the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada received $18,000 to go to South Carolina; and The Gryphon Trio received $13,200 to travel and play in the United Kingdom.
– Combined, the Quebec-based dance troupes Le Projet Ex Machina, Les 7 doigts de la main, and les Grands ballets canadiens received more than $500,000 in travel assistance for tours through the U.S., Asia, and Europe.
– Rock band The Rheostatics received $7,000 for a trip to China.