“Spin” does not begin to describe Minister Krueger’s misrepresentation of facts in this CBC interview. It’s hard to know where to start with the transcript, but let’s begin with the Minister’s representation of his meeting with the Alliance. Present were Minister Krueger, the Alliance for Arts and Culture’s ED Amir Ali Alibhai and an Alliance board member (not their “legal counsel” as Krueger calls her), and twelve or so executive directors of major BC arts organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to try to communicate to the minister the severe infrastructural damage his cuts would soon cause to BC arts and culture. During the meeting the Alliance board member stated that if the disproportionate cuts to arts were not reversed, the Alliance, in support of its members, would be forced to appeal to their huge audience for help, as well as to organize in ridings across the province. Minister Krueger chose to hear a threat and in this interview calls here calls this “extortion.” Clearly this is not extortion, and it’s actually defamatory to say so. What it is, in fact, is the normal course of democracy. Minister Krueger’s attempt to actually criminalize even mild disagreement is anti-democratic. The irony of course is that the Alliance has treated Minister Krueger remarkably politely throughout this whole devastating year. In fact, the Alliance has been so uniformly cordial with the minister that a proportion of the province’s arts organizations, shrinking or dying due to cuts, began asking the Alliance to be much more aggressive with him. Calling the Alliance “vicious” would be comic were it not such a disturbing untruth. What really happened that day? Minister Krueger, whose government had handed down draconian cuts and programs without any adequate consultation with the arts sector or with the BC Arts Council, was patronizing and seemed impervious to the arts sector’s concerns throughout. His communications during what was a multicultural meeting amounted to paternalistic admonishments couched occasionally in quotes from Christian scripture. Yet somehow the assembled arts sector remained civil throughout. That Krueger now claims he was a victim of viciousness indicates that he can dish out draconian cuts but not take dissent; it indicates that he is simply incapable of stewarding this sector. The arrogance of a government that does not consult with sectors before mangling them, and then clamps down on dissent with intimidation and spin, is of course not unique to the arts sector. The HST was rammed through with the same arrogance. It’s interesting that the tourism sector, also under Krueger’s stewardship, was hit with the HST disaster after zero consultation and substandard communication from the same minister.
Secondly, there’s the issue of Minister Krueger’s glaring self-contradiction when he claims ‘we don’t have money for arts’ and then says ‘here’s $30 “new” million over 3 years, if you stop what you’re doing and instead start a February festival in celebratory memory of the Olympics.’ This contradiction has been fully exposed and criticized in the media, yet Krueger dares to keep trotting it out. Of course there is also the related point that this “Spirit Festival” idea amounts to blatant political interference in BC arts and culture. CBC’s Kathryn Gretsinger tries to address this issue in the interview, but Minister Krueger repeatedly skirts it.
Lastly Jane Danzo has made clear to the arts community and the public that she resigned because as Chair of the BC Arts Council she could no longer work under this government’s unbearable political interference. She did not resign—as Minister Krueger unbelievably claims here—because she was finding it hard to be pressured by artists. When she returns from a month’s holiday she will confirm this.
To sum up, Minister Krueger contradicts himself through the interview and plays a dishonest, anti-democratic game, as well as an inept one. Its only virtue is that it so blatantly reveals his hand. Read for yourself. To hear the interview, listen to the CBC podcast.
CBC Early Edition
Kathryn Gretsinger: The separation of art and state is a debate that we’ve been chewing over for the last week or so. It all began with Jane Danzo. She resigned her position as head of the BC Arts Council last week.
Jane Danzo: It was made very clear, in fact, the board of council has no independent voice from the government, and therefore I believed very firmly that in order to serve actually both government and the arts sector better that I should step down.
Gretsinger: That’s Jane Danzo, the former head of the BC Arts Council.
Today we have the opportunity to hear the government’s side on this story. Kevin Krueger is the provincial minister in charge of tourism, culture and the arts, and he joins me on the line.
Kevin Krueger: Good morning, Kathryn. A warm good morning and hello to all your listeners.
Gretsinger: Thank you very much for taking our call. We do appreciate it. What role, Mr. Minister, do you think the province should play in making decisions about prioritizing arts funding?
Krueger: I think that the relationship with the arts community, arts and culture community around British Columbia, the government and the arts community has been greatly facilitated by the BC Arts Council, and the arrangement is working very well. I have read the transcripts of your interviews with the past and present chair, and I think that they both said that well.
There have been some false allegations that government has stepped in and steered funding to organizations over one another. They both made it very clear. Jane didn’t say that when she resigned. That’s never been true, and she’s been categorical about that, and I appreciate it.
So this is a process that works so well. There are only one or two, generally an average of one complaint per year that go through the full complaint process because it’s a peer review system by juries that are selected from the community in the various disciplines as I know the chairs have outlined to you works well.
Gretsinger: I guess what I want to just make sure of is that there’s a few issues on the table here. One of them has to do with funding and the way that it’s distributed. Another one is to do with the fact that there’s been dramatic cuts to funding. So let’s take them apart individually, if we can. Jane Danzo says that she does not think that the BC Arts Council has enough independence to make decisions outside of the government realm. How do you respond to that criticism?
Krueger: I think that Jane was expressing a profound frustration that she feels in a worldwide recession. That frustration is shared by billions of people around the world, and I’m one of them. It can’t be helped that Canada and British Columbia close to last of all got dragged into this whirlpool of a recession. I think we’ll be out of it faster than anybody else, but in the meantime Jane and I and Mr. Hamilton and all of us in government and in the organizations that work for government, including health authorities, have experienced this barrage of concern, that, “Please don’t cut in our areas because we just can’t stand the cut,” and that’s very legitimate.
Gretsinger: That’s the funding question, though, Mr. Krueger. That’s the funding question. But I’m asking you, first of all, about independence. She does not feel that as the head of the BC Arts Council she had enough independence to speak her mind about what the government was doing with regard to arts funding. Is there a problem with not having people be able to speak freely when they sit on the council?
Krueger: Well, I think that the acting chair, Mr. Stan Hamilton, answered you very clearly on that. If a person wants to be completely free to criticize anything you want, we all have that right. But if you are an organization that is helping to make crucial decisions in a very tough time about where funding goes and you’re heading that organization, then you are trying to do your best, and Jane Danzo is a very competent individual and I think very highly of her, trying to do your best to make sure that you’re doing the best you can for all sides.
Now, if you come out swinging against one of the sides, then you’re not remaining in the role that you were. So she wouldn t do that. She was too ethical to do that. I know that there are some people in the arts and culture community that are actually quite vicious, and they have been grinding on her really hard and on me and on the government and on their MLAs. Jane came to a meeting that I had because I’ve had a lot of round table meetings around the province. We had one in Vancouver where I was actually threatened. It was like an extortion process by the time they got down to their legal representative, summing up what they planned to do if we didn’t come up with more money. She was horrified, and it is hard for a classy, principled, gentle person like her, earnestly trying to do the best for the arts, to put up with that. That group was way over the line.
Krueger: Just let me finish. That’s the situation she was in, and she finally reached the point where she is saying if what the arts community really expects from me is full-on advocacy, she’d never attack people like that group did, but she had had enough of that, so she stepped aside to say what she said.
Now, let’s get back to the other half of your question, which is the Olympic legacy funds.
Krueger: This is a marvellous thing.
Gretsinger: And this is something that is causing a lot of concern not just in British Columbia but the Canadian Conference of the Arts is speaking out about this too. If you not only peel back a budget but also provide a smaller budget and then say that it needs to be spent on a certain thing, are you not trying to control the way decisions are made?
Krueger: No, and it…different budget. And I need to…. You’ve given me something else I have to address in asking the question that way. When you say that we have peeled back a budget, that just isn’t true. There’s an appropriation each year to the BC Arts Council to be distributed to artists and arts organizations throughout the province, and they have a lot of clients and that’s what they do. And as I said, they do it very well.
In 2008 we reached our high-water mark so far. I think we’ll get back to doing even better than that, but we were heading for what looked like a $3b surplus, and the government gave a lot of money to the arts and cultural sector, including a $150m permanent legacy fund for the BC 150 celebration. Nobody complained about that, and if they didn’t they have no right to complain about an Olympic legacy fund either, because that is new money.
The fact is we have had to take really tough decisions. The same people who complained bitterly that they aren’t getting as large a grant as they did last year would be furious if they or any of their loved ones, any of their friends couldn’t get the same wonderful health care that everybody else is getting in BC. We have to deal with these urgent needs, health care, education, social services. We have to also try and maintain all of these other relationships and important things we’re doing, and our government has demonstrated very faithfully that arts and culture are very high priority to us. We know they’re integral to who British Columbians are, all of us. They help us deliver health care and education and social services. They’re great economic generators, growth with the multiplier effect and tax revenues.
Gretsinger: How do you ensure, though, that when there are reduced dollars that you make sure that the arts community has independence to decide how that money should be spent?
Krueger: Well, nobody’s thought of a better way than the way it’s being done right now through the BC Arts Council. And again, I know that both Jane Danzo and Stan Hamilton have explained that to you. The fact is we don’t have as much money as we did, but we will, I expect, get back to providing more.
We’re actually providing more than quadruple the amount of annual funding to the arts and culture community than the government we replaced did. People lose sight of that, although not always, because the same round tables will say to me we would never want them back. It was an average of less than $13m a year that the NDP provided.
Gretsinger: All right.
Krueger: We are close to $60m a year.
So I want to answer your question if you’ll let me.
Gretsinger: We’re going to run out of time, though, for this morning, and if you can keep it very short that would be great.
Krueger: You bet. So we had a Cultural Olympiad, never been done before, a three-year Cultural Olympiad leading up to the Olympics, fabulous success. Well, 2.5 million people in total came out to watch the performances and participate, in pay performances and in free performances. We want to keep that spirit alive. We want to grow these arts organizations through their memberships who provide money to them, also through their audiences. The Olympic legacy fund is geared to do that…
Krueger: …and BC’s festivals are just one part of it. There’s a whole lot more. So we should talk again.
Gretsinger: That would be great. Thank you so much for taking our call this morning, and I appreciate your point of view on it.
Krueger: Thank you very much.
Gretsinger: Goodbye for now.
British Columbians deserve better government than this.