“It’s not that we cut. It just isn’t there.”
This quote is from the transcript below of the radio interview Arts Minister Krueger gave very recently in Kamloops. Krueger makes the point, among other very questionable points, that the BC Liberals have not cut the arts. We’ll examine some of the inaccuracies and misleading statements in a later post, but here’s the full transcript now, for the record:
Kevin Krueger, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, joins Claude Richmond – CHNL Kamloops – The Jim Harrison Show – 9:35 AM, Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Claude Richmond: We’re privileged to have Kamloops–South Thompson MLA and Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Kevin Krueger. Kevin, welcome to the program.
Kevin Krueger: Thank you, Claude, and a warm good morning to all of your listeners.
Richmond: Thanks. Let’s remind all of our listeners that if you wish to talk to Kevin on any topic, now’s your chance to put him on the hot seat.
Kevin, you’ve been through quite a few legislative sessions. What did you think of this one? I just want to get your take on just a few highlights and/or lowlights of this past session.
Krueger: Well, I think it’s really great that British Columbia — although the whole world is in the grip of the worst recession we’ve experienced in my lifetime — is doing better than everyone else and is about to host the largest celebration of 2010, the Olympics. My ministry is fully engaged in preparing for the economic benefits that will flow from the Olympics.
We’ve amassed a gigantic database of everyone around the world who’s contacted us about the Olympics. We’re running contests in other countries where people can win a trip to the Olympics and to Olympic events, with tickets and so on. All of those addresses, emails and phone numbers of people who have contacted us are in the database. We intend to be marketing British Columbia to the world aggressively from 2010 forward.
So we saw the number of tourists attending the Calgary area double in five years after they hosted the Olympics. We think we can do better than that here. We want to press that economic activity right out to every corner of the province. We’ve got teams in place in the ministry who are working to make sure that happens.
Richmond: We surely found that with Expo ’86. We reaped the benefits of Expo for many years after it was over.
But I want to come back to the session for a moment, a bit of a light-hearted moment in the Legislature. It’s not designed to embarrass you, but there was a funny moment. I happened to be sitting on the floor as a guest when your critic got up and said that — I’m paraphrasing here — that you hadn’t any studies to prove that you needed to make cuts to the arts and culture groups. To quote him as closely as I can remember, you stood there naked in front of everybody — which had the House in an uproar for a few minutes. It was very funny, to say the list.
But I must admire your restraint when you got up to give him your response. There must have been a dozen good quips you could have come back with, but you didn’t. Why don’t you give us your take on…?
Krueger: It was a moment of multiple puns. There were people offering me quips from all around our benches and even from the other side. It was kind of hilarious.
He was quite a young guy, and he talks like that. I found it a little bit embarrassing. It was such a ridiculous image to put out in front of the public. Yet it was one of those rare moments when everybody has a good laugh and then gets back to work.
Richmond: Yeah, it was a good laugh, but it’s a serious topic obviously for a lot of people. I want you talk for a moment about the arts and culture. They have been rather upset with some of the things you have done. So maybe we could get your take on it.
Krueger: Sure. Absolutely. As you know, Kamloops stands head and shoulders above many communities, with the tremendously vibrant and successful arts and culture community we have: Western Canada Theatre and the Kamloops Art Gallery, the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, the Kamloops Summer School of Music and, of course, the Tournament Capital of Canada theme and all the investment that the people of Kamloops have put into it. And sports are very much a part of our culture. And then we have the whole western emphasis too: all the successes of the KXA and the Provincial Winter Fair.
We have a culture that’s really unique and a population that tremendously supports it, including a huge volunteer sector. When we hosted the ’93 Canada Games I believe we had 10,000 volunteers involved. Pretty much everything we did at the Games — you and I were volunteers, as well — was a hundred percent oversubscribed. If we needed a hundred drivers, we had 200 drivers for the day, and so on. So it’s a great community.
I would love to see other communities take hold of their arts and culture sector the way Kamloops has. There are organizations in British Columbia that are 50 years old and still depend on annual grants from government in order to do the things that they do. By the time an arts organization is 50 years old, surely it should have built enough of a support base that the memberships alone will drive it. If government has money to provide grants, that’s a bonus. But there are people…there are organizations that depend on what are called annual grants for a reason. Government never knows if it’s actually going to have enough money to give grants. They depend on those as if they’re part of their operating income.
That’s understandable for a young organization, a group of young artists just graduated from university and forming an organization. There are lots of those in the province that I’d like to see funded.
Anyway, over the eight and a half years that our government has been in office we have actually given $531 million to arts and culture groups. I can document that to anybody who’d like to have it. It’s $531 million, over half a billion dollars.
In their ten years in office I can only document $64.5 million from the NDP to arts and culture groups. In fact they’ll say to me — the arts and culture groups from around the province: we know that the B.C. Liberals have been far more generous with arts and culture than the NDP were, but we’re really, really mad at your this year because you aren’t giving us the money. They keep referring, some of these folks, to cuts to arts and culture.
I just had a meeting with the roundtable in Vancouver yesterday and said I wish you’d stop saying that. We didn’t cut anything. The recession around the world cut revenues and they cut them dramatically for all governments. Certainly for ours, we’re billions of dollars down in revenue. Natural gas isn’t paying what it normally does. Our income tax revenues, of course, are down because people aren’t earning as much money. They’re not paying as much income tax; neither are businesses. It is a worldwide recession that cut funding.
But we have to continue funding healthcare. We’re not going to cut back on people’s Pharmacare. We’re not going to cut back on seniors’ care. We’re not going to cut back on acute care. We also won’t cut back on education…
Krueger: …because we know if people don’t get an education…
Richmond: Okay, Kevin…
Krueger: …they may well end up in poverty — in which case they’re not…
Richmond: We need….
Krueger: …even more healthcare.
Krueger: We don’t have the money. It’s not that we cut. It just isn’t there.
Richmond: Right. Let me just take the other side of the argument, because we don’t have one here from a person here from the arts and culture. They are saying that these are not tax dollars that you’re cutting; these were lottery funds. I guess what they’re looking for is a good explanation of why the lottery funds, which they rely on to operate, were cut this year when they drastically need it.
Krueger: Well, as you know, Claude, the government gets revenues from a lot of different sources. One of them is gaming. We actually opposed the expansion of gaming because of the social consequences that flow with gambling addiction, and so on. The NDP went ahead and expanded it. There’s no putting that horse back in the barn.
So we do have significant revenues from gaming, but all of that money flows into the general revenue fund. Then it flows out to, first, healthcare, which is by far our largest expenditure — almost 50 cents of every revenue dollar — then to education, which the second largest.
The NDP left us with a debt that they had doubled in their ten years, and we have to pay interest on that. We’ve got a lot of the debt paid off — the debt that they accumulated — in our first eight years in office until this recession hit. And we’ll be paying it off again.
We have all of these expenses: public safety, police, the courts, highways — all of these things that we need to provide for the people of British Columbia, who expect them.
At the end of the pipeline there’s nothing coming out now except red ink, because we’ve had to budget for a $2.775 billion deficit through no fault of anyone’s except this recession that started south of the border with the collapse of the American housing market and, therefore, the collapse of our lumber industry. It swept all around the world and caught up to us last because we’ve got a sound fiscal plan, and it’s working really well.
We’re not deviating from that. We’re still paying the lowest income taxes in Canada as British Columbians up to $118,000 in personal income. We have cut taxes 120 different times, and we’re determined that if we leave money in the pockets and bank accounts of the people and businesses who are in it, that money is better spent than if government taxes it and spends it.
We’re sticking to that plan. I believe that we are going to be the first economy to emerge from the recession, particularly because of the wonderful timing of the Olympics, the biggest celebration in the world. It’s coming to us very quickly now, and huge economic activity is going to flow from that.
The future is looking bright. The hour past has been very significantly good for British Columbians. The present is quite tough. We don’t have the money that we’d like to have to give to arts groups, but just last year, 2008…. We put $150 million out of our huge surplus last year into a B.C. 150 legacy fund for arts and culture, and the B.C. Arts Council in perpetuity will administer the earnings from that as grants. That $150 million was more than triple what the NDP provided to the B.C. Arts Council in their last four years in office.
Richmond: Just quickly, what can you tell these groups about the coming year, 2010. What’s going to happen to their funding?
Krueger: One of their concerns…. People are afraid because of our three-year budgeting cycle. As you know, we budget what we’re going to spend in the current year, and in the two years upcoming — we call them the out years — we lay out what we know for sure will be in the budget, which is really kind of a skeletal picture of the budget, and then we put the flesh on the bones according to the revenues that we project as we go into that year.
In the coming years our budget only shows what it costs to actually run the arts and heritage branches, pay the people in the B.C. Arts Council and so on. People look at that, and they think, holy smokes, that’s down to only about 10 percent of what was spent in recent years. If it was the former government’s, any former government’s, budget process, they would only be looking at this year’s, and they’d see nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, we’ve put $17.9 million through the B.C. Arts Council this year.
But it scares them, so I’ve been explaining till I’m blue in the face that that is just part of an orderly budgeting cycle, doesn’t mean that’s all that’s going to be in the budget, because we’re building that budget now. The Finance and Government Services Committee just completed its report to the Finance Minister, made recommendations including the reinstatement of the amounts that we have been providing to the B.C. Arts Council, and the Finance Minister and his people are working night and day to prepare the budget for the coming year. So I’m confident that we will be true to our track record and we’ll continue to be the most generous government in British Columbia’s history to the arts and culture communities.
Richmond: I guess, Kevin, from the lack of the phone calls, everyone in the arts and culture sector must be very happy, because I don’t see the phones lighting up, so we’ll get onto a new subject now. I want you to give us the rationale behind the government’s decision to do away with Tourism B.C. and take tourism back into the ministry. What purpose will it serve?
Krueger: Sure. Just before I do that, I’d like to respond to your comment about the arts and culture community. As I said, our local people are very heads-up, very reasonable. They came in to see me early on, talked to me about their issues. I told them about our issues and the budget crunch that we face. There was a mix-up about three-year grants because of the wording of a letter that had gone out. Our organizations had received those letters. They were reinstated on a three-year commitment that they felt had been made.
You know, they’re really reasonable people, and they are generously supported by Kamloops patrons, of which I’m one. I know that’s going to continue. I’m really proud of how Kamloops supports our arts and culture community. I think that’s why they’re not phoning in. They understand the situation. They understand our budget pressures.