“I was threatened in a meeting with them in a way that didn’t seem that much different to me than a junkie waving a needle if I was confronted by somebody on skid row who was high. It was just blatant. It was an outright threat. “You give us more money or else.”
Right on the heels of the first positive arts-funding development in a year—yesterday’s announcement of a partial restoration of funds to the BC Arts Council—Kevin Krueger, BC Minister for Tourism Culture and the Arts, has ruined the moment by making his second defamatory, unfounded accusation in a week. Both of Krueger’s statements concern a single, remarkably civil meeting he attended with the Alliance for Arts and Culture late last fall. You can read about that meeting here and decide for yourself, but in short what happened is what would happen with any sector in crisis; the Alliance told the Minister that if funds weren’t restored soon, in order to represent their members they would have to go into the communities to gather support for their cause and prove that voters care about the arts. This was not a threat. It was democracy. And it was delivered cordially and politely. What was a threat was the manner in which Minister Krueger opened the meeting. As the Alliance notes, “Minister Krueger opened that meeting last November by telling us that we should “stand down” our advocacy efforts, and that if we didn’t we could be doing “more harm” to ourselves and our cause. The implications of that comment seemed clear, but we never considered accusing the minister of threatening us.”
As is well known in the arts sector, the Alliance for Arts and Culture, BC’s largest association of arts organizations, has been faultlessly polite and professional with Mr. Krueger. It has conducted itself this way ever since the beginning of this unprecedented arts sector demolition. It’s a fact: the Alliance’s professionalism and even-handedness is a matter of record. This is why Mr. Krueger’s increasingly unstable public outbursts on the subject of his dealings with the Alliance are all the more ludicrous and inexplicable. Rather than being threatening, the Alliance has in fact often come under fire from its own members and the community at large for its remarkably soft approach during a year of emergency. Does Minister Krueger think he is saving face with British Columbians who know nothing of the issue, painting himself as the victim, when in fact what’s he doing is blaming the victim? This is not just dishonest and unethical; it’s getting downright weird. The unfortunate thing is that ever since yesterday’s partial restoration of funds, the arts community and its vocal arts audiences have made a huge effort to applaud the government for a positive first step. In light of this, to be confronted today with the Minister’s destructive, defamatory and simply bizarre behaviour is particularly galling. Were it not becoming obvious that British Columbians are giving this government’s statements an increasingly skeptical reception, we would be more worried about his remarks. However, it does seem important that we issue a reaction to this kind of unstable, dishonest behaviour from the government. We are trying our level best to take the high road but this Minister seems determined to run us off the road in his own hellbent slide into the ditch. We will not go with him. We have been honest and straight in our dealings with an extremely opaque, uncooperative and high-handed government, one that has saved no money buy cutting our tiny industrial subsidy, far smaller than other sectors receive, and that has done irreparable damage to . But enough is enough. We’re grateful for yesterday’s small partial restoration, but it must be said that the win did not just come out of the generosity of the government’s heart. It came as a result of many things: Federal Heritage Minister James Moore’s frank criticism of BC arts policy; Jane Danzo’s protest resignation from the BC Arts Council over political interference and cuts; and increasing outrage from regions all over the province on the verge of losing their arts intrastructure as well as the heart of their communities, as well as all our advocacy. If Minister Krueger thinks he can safely defame arts organizations—organizations dealing with him with the utmost professionalism—without losing his job, we think he will find he is mistaken. Full transcript of Minister Krueger’s CFAX interview is below. The arts section of the interview is immediately after the section on the HST:
See also the Georgia Straight article.
CFAX Straight Talk 01-Sep-2010 16:10 Adam Stirling: We are joined by BC’s Minister of Tourism and the Arts, Kevin Krueger. First, Minister Krueger, thanks so much for coming on the show today. We’ve just been reporting on our news a number of media outlets, including CTV, reporting…. I’ll read you the quote here. It says: “The BC Liberal government — this is from CTV — was discussing and studying the harmonized sales tax five months before they actually told British Columbians about it. Communication at BC’s Ministry of Finance obtained through an access-to-information request by a consortium of press gallery members shows that the BC government was already conducting cost-benefit analyses for consumers and businesses about the controversial tax long before its May 2009 election.” Now, your government has been very clear, saying that there was no talk about the HST. The HST was not being considered until after the election. These documents seem to show otherwise. What are your thoughts on this? Krueger: Well, Adam, I have been an MLA…. I’m now in my 15th year and my fourth term; less time than that in cabinet. I am on my fourth cabinet assignment. But the absolute truth of the matter is that we never expected, as a government, as a cabinet, that we would embrace the HST, and we never were shaken on that position until after the election of 2009. In one of my previous assignments I was the minister responsible for small business. I went around the province conducting small business round tables, was asked time and again by especially the retail sector…. There are 380,000 small businesses in BC. They employ 1.05 million people. They would say to me: “The last big thing you can do for us…. We’ve pleased with what you’ve done about regulation, pleased with what you’ve done about income taxes and other taxes. Why don’t you harmonize? We want you to harmonize. It would save us so much time.” There’s generally a couple and one employee running a small business. It takes one of the senior partners a principal amount of time doing books for the two governments. And I would say, well, we’ve discussed that internally. We’ve rejected it. We’ve been pressured to do it for years, but we don’t want to see taxes added to anything that we don’t charge PST on. The day that changed for me was the first cabinet meeting after the election, when we learned that now there was flexibility. We wouldn’t have to go 13% like all the other provinces had who’d gone to HST. We could just go with the simple sum of five and seven. The federal government would take all of our tax collection employees for PST, about 400 people, onto their payroll and look after them and their pensions. They’d do all of that, and they would put $1.6m into the provincial account to be used where we needed it at a time when the 2008 recession was suddenly catching up to us with a vengeance. That’s when it was first presented, after the election. I would say that to a polygraph examiner any time at all. And a whole lot of people are trying to jump on a political bandwagon over that, and they’re wrong. Now, the fact is the civil servants are around for 35 years. They do their job very diligently, whoever is in power. They have been analyzing this question for years. So the information today is no contradiction of what anybody has said. Of course, the NDP are always trying to jump on anything like that. So are our critics. But the fact is what I just laid out. It was not something that I ever thought we’d do. It only happened because new flexibility and the huge financial incentive were introduced. Most small businesses in BC wanted it. Most job creators are greatly advanced by it. That’ll mean that we have a far better economy than we would if we didn’t do it and Ontario did, because we would have lost the competition for investment to Ontario, and that’s where the jobs would have gone. Stirling: What changed specifically before and after the election to shift the idea or to shift your government’s perception of the tax? Was it the $1.6b from Ottawa? Krueger: It was that, and it was the fact that we could go with 12% instead of 13%. As you probably know, we’re the only harmonized province at 12%. Nova Scotia is at 15%. The rest are at 13%. But up until after the election, I had never heard of any flexibility. I gather the documents released today suggest that the civil service had word of the new flexibility the day before the election. Nobody talked to us about it. Nobody would on the day before an election. We try to be scrupulously uninvolved in matters of policy during an election. There are no members of the Legislative Assembly during an election, because it has been disbanded. Cabinet is still cabinet, but we scrupulously try to avoid being involved in matters of policy, because we don’t know if we’re going to be the government again. Stirling: I’m just reading here. This is from the article on CTV’s website. It says: “Emails in late January from the federal Finance Minister’s office to BC’s Finance Minister’s office” — now, this is January, well before the election — “discussed the upcoming federal budget in the hope that more provinces move toward harmonizing its sales tax. From that point onward, the ministry started to produce additional briefing notes for Finance Minister Colin Hansen on the pros and cons of the HST. One such briefing note, dated March 12, warns Hansen specifically to prepare himself for questioning about the tax. It reads: ‘There is a strong possibility that the BC government will be asked in the next couple of weeks about its position in harmonization.'” Why not make a clear stance at that point? Krueger: Well, as I told you, I was asked about that repeatedly as minister responsible for small business, and you could ask anyone who ever asked me, and I told them we won’t be doing that, because we’re not going to add new taxation. We’re the tax cutters. We’ve cut taxes 112 times. It might be 118 now. We had a long record of cutting taxes, really proud of having the lowest income taxes in Canada — still do up to $118,000 in income. I never thought we’d do it, and I don’t think we ever would have if it wasn’t that the flexibility was introduced. So Colin Hansen is a man whose integrity I would stake everything on. My wife and Colin Hansen were best friends in high school. He is an absolutely fine gentleman. He would never not tell the truth. He would have, I believe, told the rest of us if had decided this was a good idea going into the election. He hadn’t, and the first that I ever heard it from his lips that we ought to have another look at it was after the election. Stirling: Kevin Krueger, we thank you so much for commenting on this. We’re going to move on once again to this next topic that we originally had you scheduled to come on about. Of course, as news happens here on CFAX 1070, we cover the stories as they happen, so once again, Kevin Kruger, thanks so much for commenting on that from your perspective as a BC cabinet minister. We’re going to bring Stan Hamilton on the line now. He is interim chair of the BC Arts Council. Stan, thanks so much for holding during that. Stan Hamilton: Thanks very kindly. It was interesting. Stirling: It is interesting. It’s obviously a story of great public interest here. It’s why we’ve covered it so often, as well as number of other media outlets. But that brings us to the other news today. That’s that the BC Arts Council will administer $7m in funding provided through the BC government’s 2010 sports and arts legacy to support their strategic plan. Who wants to take this one — Minister Krueger or Stan? Krueger: I’ll try and make it quick, Adam. I hope that we haven’t cut down our time on this important topic, because I have the utmost respect for Stan Hamilton and an appreciation for him taking on the role of acting chair when Jane Danzo stepped down. I’ll just quickly outline the way the whole system works in funding to the clients of the BC Arts Council. Many of these are very long-established, highly reputable, wonderful arts organizations, and they rely on part of their revenue stream being appropriations from government which are decided by the BC Arts Council. They have an independent peer jury system, and it’s a rotating jury system, so the same people don’t look at the applications from the same organizations twice, and they decide what applications are the most worthy, how much weight to give to them, and so on, and they apportion the amount of government money they receive according to those ratings. So this has gone on for some years now, and it’s a really, really good way of going about things. There are only an average of one or two complaints per year that actually go the full resolution process. That’s how much credibility the system has. We believe in them, we value their independence, and both Jane Danzo, who resigned, and Mr. Hamilton have verified we’ve never, ever intervened in that process. The NDP managed about an average of $13.8m a year in appropriations to BC arts. We have provided nearly $600m, and this is our tenth year in office, so [we've] more than quadrupled that. It hasn’t all been through the BC Arts Council. So we’re under huge pressure with the recession that swept the world. We’re running a $1.7b deficit, miserably unhappy about that. Still, this year we have managed to allocate about $30m to the arts. BC Arts Council, again, is my preferred way to deliver money to arts groups, but the allocation this year wasn’t close to what we were able to manage in 2008, the last year that we ran a surplus. At the time that we put $150m into the BC 150 legacy fund for the arts, it looked like we might be running a $3b surplus that year, and we thought it was going to be $1.7b. As it turned out, the recession caught up to us, and we were down to about $57m at the end of the year. We still gave $7m of that to the arts and $8m or so to the heritage sites. So now we’re dealing with a brand-new fund which somehow Colin Hansen, the Finance Minister, and the Premier and the cabinet decided they would allow us even though we’re running a deficit, but everybody wanted to make sure that this wonderful energy and spirit that British Columbia discovered during the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad which attracted an audience of 2.5 million all totalled…somehow we kept that alive. So I was allowed a budget of $10m a year for three years — and this is the first of those years — to try and make sure that happened, and we brain-stormed all sorts of things that we would like to see happen with that money, including things like artists and residents mentoring the new generation of artists coming out of universities or even coming off the street. There’s some marvellous stories of arts organizations bringing people off the street and turning them into successful artists. Also, BC Spirit Festivals — a whole lot of things. In the meantime, for 18 months the BC Arts Council has been working on its strategic plan. In the time since this budget allocation was made, there’s been a lot of back and forth, but we kind of work through a filter, because the Arts Council is and needs to be independent of government. So there are staff who work between us. We ask them for recommendations. We also ask the community arts councils association for recommendations. We’ve acted on those. There’s been a lot of hard work going back and forth between the organizations through the staff of the BC Arts Council, and we have reached the point where I am completely confident that the BC Arts Council can and will deliver on those goals, and they share them, and they fit their strategic plan. I’m going to leave it to Stan to take it from there. Stirling: I was just going to say I want to ask you one question, Minister Krueger, before we get to Stan. You mentioned that the previous chair of the Arts Council stepped down recently. You didn’t say why. Is it because she was protesting funding cuts? Krueger: She is a complex person in a complex situation. She actually wrote two different letters of resignation eight days apart. The first one we have agreed remains personal. The second one was quite different. In the meantime and before that she’s come under fantastic pressure from arts lobby groups, one of which I regard as very unethical. Her second letter of resignation appeared, it seemed, within moments of us first seeing it on their website. They have since said a couple of times publicly through their senior spokespeople that they were the organization that I referred to in a CBC interview as having threatened me. I was threatened in a meeting with them in a way that didn’t seem that much different to me than a junkie waving a needle if I was confronted by somebody on skid row who was high. It was just blatant. It was an outright threat. “You give us more money or else.” I told him it was inappropriate, didn’t accept it, was not willing to carry their threats to my colleagues and my Premier, as they had said that I should. Jane Danzo was in that meeting with me. She was horrified at their behaviour. She is a classy lady, a veteran in the arts, and she didn’t like what she was dealing with. I think she came under huge pressure from that group before and after that meeting, and she had just had enough of it. She wanted to step outside the role and full-on lobby the government for more money, which I think she was pretty clear about, and so she did the honourable thing, unlike the group I’m referring to. Stirling: In her written statement — I just want to say this just for our listeners — it says the council board did not have a voice independent from government. Krueger: Well, I would like Mr. Hamilton to respond to that. Stirling: Yes, please. Let’s bring Stan in here. Stan, your colleague Jane Danzo released a public statement before she resigned saying that she believes that your council does not have a voice independent from government as Minister Krueger has asserted. What are your thoughts? Hamilton: Well, I think, you know, when you read her letter very carefully, she said it was difficult to have an independent voice, and I think that was in recognition of the fact that we are a government agency, and we don’t have the freedom to go out publicly criticizing public policies and expect to be effective. That’s different from advocating for the arts, and I think Jane recognized that, and I think our board recognized that. We speak very freely in favour of the arts and speak very freely in favour of expanding the scope of arts in the province. There’s no doubt about that. We speak privately to the government on policy issues, and I think we speak very frankly. I can assure you that the meetings I’ve had with the minister since I was appointed interim chair…. The conversations have been absolutely frank and absolutely straightforward, trying to represent the views of our board. Stirling: Why cannot they be frank in public? Why do they need to be frank in private? Hamilton: Well, we can be frank in public until you reach that point that you’re standing up and saying the government policy on this particular area is wrong. I mean, one has to be a little practical about this. We are appointments of the government. We are an agency of the Crown. You don’t find across Canada arts councils publicly criticizing policy. They do it privately, and they advocate very strongly in favour of arts. There’s also a matter of style. I mean, it happens to be my style that I would rather go in and meet with the minister and whoever and just lay it on the table privately, because I think these conversations are much franker one to one, and that’s the style I prefer. Krueger: I can give you practical examples, Adam, of why it’s important that as we’re working out policy…. This isn’t something that’s presented to us in a dream as has happened to people in the bible. People say there’s two things you don’t want to watch being made. One’s policy, and the other is sausage. It’s a tough process. You have a competition between all sorts of interests about what you should do. If you start debating these things publicly between the people who are going to have to decide them and implement them, you get situations such as what happened to me with the NDP critic, Spencer Herbert, who showed up at the Klahowya Village, which…. Aboriginal Tourism BC had a wonderful tourism promotion in Stanley Park for a couple of months this summer. They are an organization that actually…. If we’d only had their example decades ago, they’re so good at including culture in all their tourism activities and everything they do. We’ve been way behind on that in British Columbia for decades, and we’re working hard to catch up now. Stirling: Unfortunately, Mr. Minister, we’re going to have to leave it there, because we’re all out of time, but I thank you so much for coming on the show and talking about this news, both of you.