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Sunday, May 11, 2008

A look at Bill C-10 and the Muhammad cartoon controversy: Should government money come with government control?

Diane Watts, a researcher with REAL Women of Canada, has written in the National Post that...

The Department of Canadian Heritage’s support of the cultural industries in Canada — film, television, publishing, sound recording and news media, now amounts to $5-billion annually. The purpose of this funding is to encourage Canadian cultural content so as “to develop Canadians’ sense of belonging” and “building the country’s national identity.” Regretfully, the material created by the culture industry in Canada, by way of government grants and tax credits, has rarely achieved these objectives. Instead, these grants have had the opposite effect, in that they have resulted in works that alienate and offend Canadians.

Read “Diane Watts on Bill C-10: Holding artists accountable” here.

She’s right. In fact, Canadian film industry celebrity spokespeople like actress Sarah Polley make the case that it is often the purpose of film to challenge traditional values and institutions. Alienate, offend, shock, provoke...this is often the aim of films, especially when the subject matter is social or political commentary.

When the Western Standard published cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, our critics said we alienated and offended members of the Muslim community – and I’m sure we did. Our former publisher Ezra Levant gave a powerful answer to this charge while before the Canadian Human Rights Commission to account for his decision to publish the cartoons.

In short, he made it perfectly clear that free speech, to be at all meaningful, included the right to offend, even for capricious reasons. (I haven’t seen a more powerful defence of liberty since Howard Roark, played by Gary Cooper, made his courtroom defence of individualism in the film version of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.)

Watch Levant before the CHRC here.

Watts wrote her column in the National Post in support of Bill C-10, legislation that would deny tax credits to films produced in Canada that don’t conform to government policy objectives. Watts’ argues that if you take government money, you should conform to government standards. (I’ve argued repeatedly in previous posts that a tax credit is not a subsidy. It’s targeted tax relief, but that's a matter for another post.)

But wait a minute. The Western Standard received government subsidies. If you look at the bottom of the masthead of any issue of the Western Standard you’ll see an offensive Government of Canada logo with this accompanying statement: “We acknowledge the assistance of the Government of Canada through the Publications Assistance Program toward our mailing costs.”

Does that mean the government had a right to demand that our former publisher conform to the multicultural policy objectives of Heritage Canada? Was the CHRC just making sure that tax dollars directed at the Western Standard were being used to responsibly advance public policy objectives? On this point, Levant wrote about the reaction from the Conservative government to the cartoon controversy:

Perhaps it was that same incoherent fear that expressed itself through the mouths of the new Conservative defence and foreign affairs ministers. Gordon O'Connor announced that our publication would endanger our troops in Afghanistan; Peter MacKay said that freedom of speech must be limited to what is "responsible" and "appropriate," and that his department would now "promote a better understanding of Islam internationally."

Read "What were we thinking?" here.

Sounds to me like MacKay wants to censor magazine publishers.  Does the postal subsidy give him that right?

So here’s my point: Government meddling should not beget further government meddling. We should end government spending on film. We should not demand that the government or a single minister become the arbiter of what constitutes acceptable artistic expression – and we should not demand that film producers become de facto propaganda agents of the state. We should also end government spending on magazines. But until we do, we should not allow the government to restrict or criminalize the publishing of offensive material. (While we're eliminating postal subsidies for magazines, we should eliminate Canada Post so publishers can get a reasonable price for postage in an open marketplace.)

The Conservative government has so far decided not to eliminate the money it spends on directly subsidizing Canadian films. Fine. A minority government would make this difficult, assuming there is a will to do so, which I doubt. Instead, they want to consolidate power over artistic expression in the office once occupied by Sheila Copps, a former Liberal Heritage Minister.

This is not a conservative agenda; it's a statist one -- and it should not be supported by conservative advocacy organizations like REAL Women.

Bill C-10 passed through the House of Commons last October, but remains stalled in Canada’s chamber of Sober Second Thought.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on May 11, 2008 | Permalink


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Canadian "Heritage" gives out $5b a year? WASTE! Disband the department and give the money to hospitals and schools, not rich liebrals in Tronna.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-05-11 4:37:14 PM

The solution is quite simple.

No money, no control.

Fill yer boots on your own dime.

Posted by: set you free | 2008-05-11 5:42:39 PM

And while we're at it, let's get rid of the tax exemption for churches, which I expect costs far more than $5 billion in tax revenues.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-05-11 5:46:34 PM


So, you're in favour of higher taxation?

Posted by: set you free | 2008-05-11 5:53:28 PM

Memo to PMSH: Once your hands are covered with shit it's really hard to get rid of the smell.

One must keep them (Government) out of our homes, out of our wallets and try not to let them anywhere near the kids.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-05-11 6:01:52 PM

Contract with the government. Tit for Tat. That'll solve your moral problem.

Posted by: dewp | 2008-05-11 6:58:40 PM

I've never seen a Tat in a porno film.

Posted by: set you free | 2008-05-11 7:58:36 PM

Heritage Canada is one of many ministries/departments that should be eliminated. It is not only the amount of tax dollars wasted on various lobby groups, but also the huge number of bureaucrats' wages and benefits.

I also agree that there should be no government (understand our money) grants or tax credits to these groups. If they produce anything of value or merit, it will fly on its own.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-05-11 8:28:07 PM

I'm not in favour of higher taxation, just taxation from different sources. And while we're taxing the churches, lets strip the Fraser Institute of their charitable status; the notion that those clowns do "educational" work is as laughable as some of their studies.

On a more serious note, if you haven't seen a Tat in a porno film, you've clearly been too focused on the, well, lets just call them the naughty bits. In fact, pornographic movie stars, like many of their generation, are quite fond of tattoos and sport them in many unexpected places. Or perhaps you a fan of the Golden Age of pornography, before tats became so popular.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-05-11 11:25:40 PM

Keep in mind trueleft is more than likely a fan of gay porn, rumor has it there are plenty of tats on his favorite hunks.

Posted by: deepblue | 2008-05-11 11:39:20 PM

ZP, rather than give the money to some other government institution, it would be better left in our pockets.

Posted by: TM | 2008-05-12 9:20:14 AM

There has to be higher government spending on Canadian Film, Canadian Art, Canadian Media, and Canadian Identy. Otherwise you WILL and ARE ALREADY being swallowed by the Americans. I know you "Canadians" on the far right (and left sometimes) wish you were american anyway... but some of you might actually want to keep an identity.

I am a Canadian and have been living in Australia for 4 years... and it is a breath of fresh air to be in a country so UN-AMERICAN and not constantly polluted by Americanism... well... compared to Canada that is.

You can actually go to a movie theater here and see Australian films... Australian music saturates the Air waves... Australian shows are all over the TV as well...

Hey.. Australia is polluted by Americanism too... and I can point out dozens of cross overs... but there is a pride here, I see it every day, I feel it, almost everyone has it. But your "Canadian" content is pathetic.

Being in Australia made me realize why many in Quebec want to seperate... who wants to be a part of a country unconcerned about their own culture? Not me. And Australia isn't even that different... but just shows me what Canada might have been.

Posted by: Xenomorph | 2008-05-13 4:03:28 AM

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