Just the facts
The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) today presents its analysis of the 2011 federal budget, which was adopted in June by the 41st Parliament, further to the May general election.
Like last year, this year’s budget analysis reveals that overall, federal funding to the cultural sector remains stable, which has more or less been the case since 2006 under successive Conservative minority governments. While the CCA characterized this ‘holding pattern’ as reassuring last year, we projected that this state of affairs would not likely endure given the tightening fiscal situation of the government, and the conclusion of stimulus spending to address the 2008/09 recession.
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The backdrop to this year’s analysis is therefore the federal government’s determination to get its fiscal house in order by 2014/15, one full year ahead of its original pre-election schedule
For this fiscal year however, overall federal cultural funding remains quite stable, with only the slimmest of reductions for most organizations – and even small increases for some. The fact that the government has maintained what was essentially a pre-election budget may seem reassuring, as is the renewed commitment to a number of arts and culture programs. One can only welcome the announcement that the CBC will receive its annual $60 million top-up again this year and the renewed commitment to the Canada Media Fund, which includes the former Canadian Television Fund, on an ongoing basis at a level of $100 million per year. The government also establishes funding for the second national museum outside of the national capital region. The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax receives its first appropriation of $10 million in the 2011-2012 Main Estimates. Budget 2011 also introduces a new children’s tax credit for arts activities, something the sector has been advocating for some time. The government indicates that this new tax credit will reduce federal revenues by $25 million 2010/11 and by $100 million in each of 2011/12 and 2012/13.
While there is little in the way of bad news in expenditures announced for this year, all eyes are on next year, and where the axe will fall. During the summer, many government departments already announced staff cut-backs as well as program eliminations, but these are the result of previous strategic review exercises. This is the case for the Cultural Human Resources Council, which has been told that its funding is coming to an end in March 2013, and that like other sectoral councils funded by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, it may continue to apply for project funding if it can find ways to fund its own operations.
The results of the Strategic and Operating Review – or Deficit Reduction Action Plan, as the process is now known in bureaucratic circles - will not be known until the budget is announced next February or March. It is expected that at the outset of its four-year majority mandate, the government will announce all of the severe cuts it deems necessary to achieve a balanced budget by 2014, especially given an economic climate which seems to be worsening. The President of the Treasury Board, Minister Tony Clement, had stated that the government would be selective and not apply “across the board” cuts, so it may well be that some departments or agencies will be asked to cough up more over time.
What this will mean for the arts and culture sector is not yet clear. Rumour-prone Ottawa is rife with whisperings that cuts to Heritage staff and programs will be severe. The department, which like the whole governmental apparatus, is understandably tight-lipped on these matters at present, will obviously not escape the blade of the expenditure reduction axe. Like other departments, it is required to identify scenarios for a five per cent and a ten per cent expenditure reduction cut as part of the Strategic and Operating Review. This is on top of the freeze to departmental administrative costs stemming from budget 2010, which meant the department had to absorb some $2 million in scheduled salary increases in 2010-2011. This applies for 2011-12 as well, so the Department will need to absorb a further amount of this scale owing to the freeze.. The department has already seen its staff reduced by 25% as a result of previous Strategic Reviews.
As noted in many previous budget analyses, the government continues to approach culture without a published long-term vision or clearly articulated policy. In the absence of a clear sense of direction for cultural policy, will the sector be especially vulnerable in the process of Strategic and Operational Review? The question of the day remains: where exactly will the axe fall?