Transcript: Spencer Herbert questions Kevin Krueger on arts cuts

Spencer Herbert, MLA, Vancouver

See also the Georgia Straight article on this meeting between Krueger and Herbert: “Arts Minister Kevin Krueger talks about Bible, not cutbacks” by Charlie Smith. The Bible and scripture are certainly brought up a surprising number of times, considering the secular status of our government and the multicultural nature of our province, and that’s quite apart from the main issue. Below is the full draft transcript (please note it’s a draft transcript only, subject to corrections) of the proceedings of Krueger’s November 2 budget estimates meeting for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, with the NDP’s Culture Critic, MLA Spencer Herbert. The official source of this draft transcript is here, and the video is here (afternoon session).

Hon. K. Krueger: I’ll just introduce the staff who just joined me. This House met Jeremy Long on Thursday, but it was barely long enough to bask in his aura. Jeremy is the executive director of the B.C. Arts Council. He and they do a wonderful job for the arts and culture community of British Columbia. Immediately behind Mr. Long is Andrea Henning, the executive director of the arts and culture branch. To Ms. Henning’s right is Jennifer Iredale, the acting director of the heritage branch.

S. Herbert: I’m just wondering how the minister would justify in his service plan — and I understand we’re talking about the estimates that are based out of that service plan — cutting core funding for arts and culture in B.C. down to $3.7 million in 2010.

Hon. K. Krueger: The member sowed the seeds to his own answer in his preamble because he’s talking about the 2010-11 budget — which, as I’ve said earlier, is still being built. The member’s own party, when it was in office, didn’t forecast future years.

Our government has felt that that’s an important part of the planning process: to lay out things that we believe we can predict with certainty. Those numbers are numbers that we felt certain enough of to put out, but they aren’t the budget that is before this House for debate in these estimates. We do need to confine the questions and the answers to the 2009-10 budget year, which expires March 31 of 2010.

I wanted to correct a couple of other things that the member said on the record as he wrapped up his questions before we introduced the arts and culture people. When he says that the tourism industry is going to be subject to a new 12 percent tax, I trust he knows that that isn’t actually true. Perhaps he was quoting someone else who said there’d be a new 12 percent tax, because HST will only apply where GST applies up until the implementation of HST.

Yes, some industries, which is what I was referring to in the misquotation the member had of me…. I know he’s quoting Bill Tieleman, who chooses his own words out of a sequence and out of an interview that happened with somebody else. Some industries — specifically those which weren’t subject to PST, and which still aren’t, up until the implementation of the HST — are affected in a different way than those many industries that are delighted about the HST.

When people talk about a negative effect on the tourism industry of HST, they fail to take into account the fact that every new resort that’s built, every time there’s a renovation to a hotel or a motel or a pub or a restaurant…. Every time new facilities of those types are built, they’re going to benefit tremendously from the HST, because they won’t have all the input taxes that they have had under the current system.

When the member talked about small business…. There are 380,000 small businesses in B.C. They employ a 1.050 million British Columbians. About 20,000 of those businesses are tourism businesses, but in the many small business round tables that I chaired when I had that portfolio, I consistently heard from businesses that said that harmonized sales tax was the last big thing our government could do for small business.

They’ve been pretty happy with our tax cuts across the board, our elimination of unnecessary regulation, our fiscal plan and the way it works. But they would tell me that harmonized sales tax would be a huge boon to small business. They would no longer have two different sets of government accounting books — one provincial, one federal.

When you talk about 1.050 million employees and 380,000 businesses, that’s less than three employees per business, on average. They would tell me it’s often two spouses and one of their children or one employee, and they were having to give up way too much of their precious time to government accounting, for provincial and federal taxes separately, when they really couldn’t afford it.

So most businesses are very pleased about the HST. Those who anticipate some negative effect are in consultations with the Ministry of Finance, and I will pass the member’s questions on.

So take it away, Member. If you asked me a question, sorry, I’ve forgotten what it was.

S. Herbert: I believe I’d asked about the arts cuts and the out-years budget. I know the minister has said that he won’t talk about the future of the budgets in any more detail, since we’re just focused on this year. I asked just because the arts and culture community has been asking me to ask those questions. They don’t know what to do. They look at their books, they look at what happens next year, and they have no idea.

The B.C. Arts Council, as the minister will well know, has been having forums with arts and culture organizations and people. I think it’s great, going out and talking with them, but the comment that still sticks with me from the forum that I got to attend is that currently in next year’s budget, there’s only enough money really to keep the lights on and keep the staff there but nothing to actually invest in arts and culture.

That scares me and disturbs me as somebody who is a long-time supporter of arts and culture in the province. Now, we’re not going to be discussing that, I know, as the minister said, so we’ll move on to some other areas for discussion in the ministry.

Basically, I know the minister has made a number of statements in the House and to media about the cuts which have hit arts and culture groups out of the gaming funding and about how, well, you had to choose between feeding a child or making an investment to arts and culture and that the government is trying to do all they can, as the minister says, but it’s a tough time. I know he’s also spoken about the out-years and how, “Well, we’ll get what we can get to” — those kinds of comments. “We’ll see what we can do.”

The government, I know, has its own study, which was commissioned by the ministry in 2006. In that study it showed that for every dollar invested, the government makes up to $1.36 back in taxes. So there’s actually more money, according to this study, to invest in things like health care, dealing with hungry children, and those kinds of things.

So I’m wondering what the minister’s thoughts are on that study and if investing in arts and culture is actually an investment. Or does he see it as a subsidy without an economic benefit?

Hon. K. Krueger: That particular report was done on one set of economic models. There are many reports that are done on various economic models, and they seldom agree completely. That being said, I don’t dispute and this government doesn’t dispute the fact that the arts and culture communities and the many tremendous things they do provide economic benefit to British Columbia’s economy. They also certainly and obviously provide tremendous social benefit in the way that they enhance our culture, our communities, our province as a whole — the way we see the world, the way we think about ourselves.

I have also been conducting round tables in the arts and culture community, and they have a very convincing case that they help with health care delivery in that if they are providing music programs in seniors homes, and that’s just one example, they’re enhancing the quality of life. They help seniors be happier than they would be otherwise. They do that for all of us, but certainly, seniors can often become isolated and lonely, and their health breaks down as a result. They’ve given me very eloquent examples of how they believe that they help with the government’s health assurance programs and prevention of isolation and loneliness and illness, and all of those things.

Also, education. They have been going into the schools more and more. I don’t dispute that at all, but they help with the delivery of education, social services. The member is probably aware, because it’s not far from his neighbourhood, of an organization called Transitions that helps kids off the street come in and learn how to do work within the film industry — an inspirational organization, wonderful people. One of the young people they met on the street has come so far through their programming that he now has a scholarship, and he’s taking post-secondary education in film-making. So I don’t dispute those things either.

The nature of the finding that the member quotes…. There’s a scripture in the Bible, “Cast your bread on the waters, and it will return to you after many days,” and I believe that too. That’s a matter of faith in the Christian religion, but it’s a similar finding to what this economic report found. I believe those benefits flow.

The question of how quickly they flow is another question, and what you do in the meantime with the very physical human needs that people have for health care right now and education right now and social services right now. This budget has a $2.775 billion deficit. Is it right to borrow even more deeply than that to provide grants to the adult community of today that will have to be paid back by people who are now children and grandchildren? Is that right?

Obviously, we have provided substantial funding this year, together with the money that flowed from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development through the gaming funds. We were actually able, when you combine that with the $7 million allocation from the supplemental estimates in March, to match the money that the B.C. Arts Council received in the appropriation in ’08-09. That’s a pretty good record.

I always ask the arts community…. We know that they have those fears the member spoke of, but we ask them to please look at our record, because the proof is in the pudding. There was a $150 million allocation in 2008 when we ran our large surplus, and the B.C. legacy fund now will be under the care of the B.C. Arts Council. The earnings on it over the future years will be provided in further grants.

That was a huge allocation. I don’t think there’s ever been one like it in B.C. history. It’s more than triple the sum of the last four years of B.C. Arts Council funding by the NDP government.

I’d respectfully respond to the member again on the question of the out-years. There would be nothing but blackness on an NDP budget about the out-years. They never predicted what people could count on in the coming years. The member chuckles a bit about that, but it is the truth. It was ten years of a government, and that’s the way budgeting was done — one year at a time. People often didn’t know what their budget would be until six months into the budget year.

Yes, we’re talking about today, 2009. We’re talking about a worldwide recession that has hit a whole lot of places a whole lot worse than it’s hit B.C. because of our solid fiscal plan and performance.

We talked earlier about the huge opportunity of the Olympics and the way it’s going to benefit our economy, and I think it’s important and incumbent on the opposition and on government not to dwell on negative things — certainly not to join any fearmongering of any organizations — but to talk about the facts, talk about the record, talk about what we’ve delivered so far.

A $25 million renaissance fund was made available so that arts and culture organizations could find matching money and build their own trusts, and they did that. They grew it to $55 million. I believe that was the reason for the creation of 61 new funds, and it also added substantially to others.

The member and I were at the Cultch when it opened — a hundred-year-old building completely redone — and we were the government that provided the money to make that happen. Everyone present at the grand opening said that it would never have happened without the $9 million from this provincial government.

I want to acknowledge fully the $6 million to $7 million of partners’ funding, but it never would have happened. The member heard the architect say that it was a church originally. It’s 100 years old. It was built on a foundation of faith, and that’s all that was left under it because the foundation had essentially crumbled away.

This government has demonstrative results, a record to point to. We know we also will be judged by our present and our future. This year we’ve done quite well, and I hope we’ll do just as well or better next year.

No one can say it isn’t manifestly true, looking at our record, that we have enthusiastically supported the arts and culture community in very tangible ways that are unprecedented, including our funding to the B.C. Arts Council, and we’re still doing better in a time of worldwide recession than the previous government did in a time of North American economic boom.

S. Herbert: I know I’ve struck a nerve when the minister goes back to the ’90s and when he gets into the partisan speechifying about years of blackness but then accuses the opposition of fearmongering. It’s a funny thing. A pot calling a kettle black is, I guess, the phrase.

The challenge is…. I’m hoping that in these estimates, and we don’t have a lot longer, we can share from a position of where I ask a question, I get an answer, and it’s not a speech condemning a previous government’s times, because I’m asking about this current government.

I know that the minister has talked about the Cultch being built on a foundation of faith and that that was all that was left. Well, it seems to me that this government is operating in the same way right now in terms of the arts and culture community. He says, “Just trust us,” basically. “Just look at what happened in the past, and this will be the future.”

People, as the minister well knows, can’t eat faith. You can try, but it leaves you a little bit hungry. Arts and culture groups looking forward to the future are very scared by what’s happening, as the minister well knows and saying, “Well, in the future sometime, it’ll come back, and we’ll get back there,” is….

For a lot of the companies I talk to, they tell me that they’ll be closed. In fact, we’ve already seen a number of companies close. Organizations shut down and those volunteer networks crumble because of the cuts in the gaming sector.

The minister might characterize it as doing very well, but I think in the gaming sector we’ve seen 44 percent of groups that used to get investments through that sector not get anything at all this year. That’s really tough for a group, especially in rural B.C., where they don’t have a lot of other investment sources.

You know, it’s brutal out there right now. You talk to companies, and yes, there are some success stories. I’m happy to share in success stories, but I’m doing my job as critic to push this minister and to push this government to reinvest in arts and culture in those out-years and in this year, because what we’re seeing are job losses, as the minister well knows. We’re seeing companies lost. We’re seeing cultural opportunities all across this province being taken away from the people.

Now, the minister says it would be pushing the burden onto the future population if we were to fund arts and culture right now at the level that it used to be or if we were to borrow it now. I guess, again, that comes up to the question I asked earlier which was: are they investments, or are they subsidies?

If the minister believes that they’re subsidies which cost us, well, then I can understand his argument. I see them as investments in our province’s future, and certainly the various investments, or are they subsidies? If the minister believes that they’re subsidies which cost us, then I can understand his argument. I see them as investments in our province’s future.

Certainly, the various studies that the minister has mentioned…. I know the Conference Board of Canada study was saying that something like $1.86, I think — or maybe it was $1.88 — came back in the form of taxes. That’s just to one level of government. That doesn’t include the municipal, and it doesn’t include the provincial levels as well. That study was about the federal government. So if we want economic stimulus, I think the arts and culture community is one of the main ways to go. I guess because this is the whole ministry, I’m curious if the minister thinks the stimulus money being provided to PavCo either in the form of the B.C. Place roof or in the approximately $42 million provided every year as a subsidy — if we want to talk about it as subsidies; not investments…. Why is that appropriate whereas steady funding for arts and culture — steady investments for arts and culture — is not appropriate under the minister’s current service plan?

Hon. K. Krueger: Before I get…. Well, maybe I will address the member’s last points first.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “subsidy.” I think the member has introduced that word to this debate. The government definitely provides subsidies to PavCo. By and large, governments around the world, I think, except with those types of operations — stadia and convention centres…. Some of that’s necessary, but they generate huge economic activity. That is really a moot point compared to arts and culture funding.

We have common ground that we both value. Both our political parties and both the government of today and the government of the 1990s value the arts and culture communities. There’s lots of proof on the record of how deeply we value it, if people measure by results.

I don’t think that we should go back to talking about PavCo because the member made a commitment last week about wrapping that up, and we’ve got really fine people here who’ve waited a long time to answer questions on arts and culture funding. But the member was called away to other duties, and his colleagues finished up the debate last Thursday. I don’t know that he heard some of the answers.

Some of the groups that have not received B.C. Arts Council grants this year still will. The B.C. Arts Council has allocated about $6 million out of almost $11 million that they are provided this year.

So people apply for that. Organizations apply for grants from those funds, and there’s a substantial amount of money still to be disbursed.

S. Herbert: Yes, I’ve read the transcript — so thanks. I know that the minister has probably heard my speeches on arts and culture and what my party thinks we should be needing to do, and I have heard the minister’s speeches many times, so let’s move on here.

Can the minister explain to me why it makes economic sense to cut investment in B.C. BookWorld, which according to a study funded by the minister’s own ministry says that B.C. BookWorld is the most important cog in the infrastructure that supports writing and publishing in B.C.?

Hon. K. Krueger: B.C. BookWorld has been in discussions with the B.C. Arts Council. It intends to apply for a grant in the coming year. I can’t give any assurances of the outcome — that will be determined by the B.C. Arts Council through its system — but the fund from which B.C. BookWorldenjoyed funding for, I believe, over 20 years straight derives from the interest that’s earned on moneys invested through the B.C. Investment Corporation, and the earnings are down drastically in today’s world financial market — even money isn’t making very much money — so there just wasn’t nearly enough to go around.

Those earnings are far oversubscribed by the sum of the applications, and decisions had to be made as to where funding should go, and the member is correct that there was no allocation to B.C. BookWorld out of those funds in this tranche.

S. Herbert: Would I be correct in guessing that that’s the same answer that I’m going to get if I ask about the B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers and the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. and Music B.C.?

Hon. K. Krueger: Yes.

S. Herbert: Yes. The minister tells me: yes, that is the answer. Okay. The minister has often talked about the supplemental funding the B.C. government gave to arts and cultural organizations, and I’ve read the letters. It knew that things were going to be tight after the election, so it had the great foresight to give this extra money beforehand.

The letter that was sent to many of these organizations that received this so-called supplemental funding spoke about it as supplemental funding and good for the future. The letter never spoke about: “There are cutbacks coming in the fall, so hold on to this money because you’re going to need it.”

So I’m curious if the minister can explain to me why the letter spoke about it as supplemental funding and did not refer to the fact that the money would be needed later because there would be cuts coming to the grants going to these organizations.

Hon. K. Krueger: We were looking to see if we had a copy of those letters, and one is not coming to hand, but we will provide a copy to the critic. They had a line in them to the effect that the fact that the organization was receiving an apportionment — I believe there are 247 organizations that did — of the supplemental funding from the ’08-09 budget would mean that those dollars would be considered in the adjudication of the next operating grants.

We were all — opposition, government, arts and culture people and B.C. Arts Council, alike — seeing that the bad things happening south of us and moving around the world might well affect us. We’d seen a dramatic decline in our anticipated surplus for the ’08-09 year. The term “supplemental” isn’t a B.C. Arts Council term, as the member knows. It’s a term of the processes of this Legislature.

The member said he’d read the Hansard of last Thursday. If he reads the Hansard of last March, it’s all over the Hansard that the government was very clear. We’ve eked out a small surplus. We were heading for…. I believe the prediction around September 11 was over a $2 billion surplus. There are indications that it might be substantially larger than that, but that’s what we thought was looking likely.

Everything changed September 12, 2008, and everybody knows that. It’s a matter of record. Everybody knows why. But the supplemental estimates did allocate $7 million to the B.C. Arts Council process and over $8 million to heritage sites.

It’s a rare time that we get a compliment from the opposition, so I want to thank the member for his term “great foresight.” In hindsight it’s even greater foresight than we thought at the time.

S. Herbert: I guess the reason I asked the question is because in the way that the letter was worded…. I know that the minister has read it as well and read out what he thought was the paragraph that I was referring to.

There were a large number of organizations that I talked to, medium-sized — let’s say that: medium-sized — level of organizations, who read the letter as if it was extra money as good work on their parts — that it was a vote of confidence in them that they got this extra money. They saw it as extra money and did not see…. There’s nowhere in the letter saying that your budget, your regular grant allocation, is going to be reduced by 60 percent.

So they spent the money and then discovered after: “Oh well, we don’t have that money anymore, and we’re bigger in the hole.” So it’s just a caution and hopefully, in future, should government ever do something like this again…. I guess we’ll get there when we get there, but these groups felt that they’d been played.

I had people say to me that they got this extra money before the election only to be knocked down after the election with the reduction in funding when they thought that the government had actually given them an increase. I know that a number of groups put out press releases congratulating the government for this additional money and saying how happy they were that they got this extra money from government, only to be rudely awakened that no, it was not extra money. But we can leave that there for today and move on to some other discussion.

Can the minister tell me about latest developments in the government’s announced and then reannounced Asia-Pacific museum of trade?

Hon. K. Krueger: I do have that wording now, and I’ll just put it on the record. Those allocations — and the correct number is 247; I thought it was 257. The organizations that got that money, this is the paragraph from the letter they got. “The amount of the supplemental funding allocated to your organization has been calculated as a fixed percentage of your most recent operating assistance grant. The allocated amount will be factored into the assessment of your request for assistance during the coming year.”

So I just asked the B.C. Arts Council people with me how many organizations actually came back with the argument that the member just presented. Of the 247 organizations, only 12 have made that argument in some form. There may still be others who make that argument, because we still have the applications that I mentioned in my previous answer. I wanted to put that on the record for the members, and I need a little consultation before I deal with the question he just posed.

With the question about the anticipated Asia-Pacific museum of trade and culture, this was introduced in February 2006 with the following words. “New steps will be taken to support our arts community. A new Asia-Pacific Museum of Trade and Culture, a new national Centre of Northwest Aboriginal Art and Culture, and a World Women’s History Museum will all be initiated.”

In Budget 2008, $3 million was allocated over two years for the planning for the three initiatives. As this economic situation unfolded, which the member and I have been debating — where we’ve had to deal with these very tough decisions about if we’re going to keep our commitments, as we have, to fully fund health care and education and if we’re going to have additional social services spending — what are we not going to be able to afford?

Obviously, when we’re dealing with the kinds of tough decisions the member and I have already canvassed, it’s not a time to be launching something new. So presently planning is not proceeding and the funding has been rescinded, concept development has been completed in consultation with stakeholders, and we’re going to have to wait on those initiatives.

The Chair: Just a reminder to members that when they have the floor that they shouldn’t be referring to electronic devices.

S. Herbert: All right. Point well taken.

Hon. K. Krueger: Mea culpa.

S. Herbert: Mea culpa, says the minister. How technology is changing our discourse these days. Speaking of technology, the B.C. Liberal platform in 2005 spoke about Picture B.C., a new initiative which would “provide a unique point of connection for all the world to learn about our province and to invite all British Columbians to contribute to the single-largest electronic repository of freely available B.C. art and art sources in the province.”

When I clicked on the link from the Internet, the website says: “Website not found.” And I googled it, with a copyright 2008, so I’m not sure what’s happening with that. Can the minister provide me an update about Picture B.C.?

Hon. K. Krueger: Well, sadly, I’ve just been reminded I can’t consult my BlackBerry.

I am assured that Picture B.C. is a functioning site. The member is probably much more skilled with electronics than I am. My grandkids are getting to that stage. But I am assured that it’s a functioning site.

S. Herbert: I guess we should talk to Google about that. I checked it in this room not so long ago, and it did not exist.

Interjection.

This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.

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