Harper cuts travel grants to artists

When Guy Giorno took over the chief of staff’s office to the Prime Minister, he rounded up the Ministerial chiefs, the directors of communications and senior PMO staff and told them the same thing: this is essentially an election year and everything that we do from now on will be proactive, direct and obviously political. Giorno’s “be political” theme will set the tone of this government as it moves into the fall when opposition leader Stephane Dion blusters about defeating the government, into the winter when Dion threatens to defeat the government over the budget and into the fall of 2009 when the government’s mandate comes up for renewal due to the fixed election date legislation the Prime Minister’s tabled early in this term.

Today, in the National Post, David Akin writes about Conservatives cutting travel grants to Canadian artists. Surprisingly, at least to this observer, is that this money comes under the mandate of Foreign Affairs. Sending artists to film festivals and to columnists to give lectures in communist countries would more appropriately be fixed in the department of Canadian Heritage but that’s another discussion. The government’s political staffers have found some cash that is sure to enrage the arts community and as a side-benefit, show ordinary hard-working 9-5 Canadians that their tax dollars are sending others overseas while they put together their savings (after filing their income tax) over the months to put the kids in a minivan and drive down to Disneyworld for a week.

You can tell that Giorno’s people are executing the “be political” strategy in the quotes provided to David Akin by government staffers.

On Gwynne Dyer’s government grant to travel to a popular Canadian vacation destination to “[create] greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy … within key audiences of Cuban decision makers and opinion leaders.” political staffers explained that

“[Dyer’s] a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.”

On the North-South Institute

“[it’s] a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank … Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-Western conferences in Cuba?”

Canadian artists are not on PMO director of strategic planning Patrick Muttart’s radar as these folks have never likely voted Conservative and never will. This move to cut taxpayer money from these groups for foreign travel will cause outrage among that community and will in turn, the Conservatives are predicting, will show other Canadians that the government is defending their interests instead.

This is an obvious political move by PMO and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conservative Party comps Sarah Polley’s airfare the next time she comes to Ottawa to hold a press conference.

Here’s a summary of the Arts Promotion Projects funded in 2006-2007:

Read this document on Scribd: 2006-2007 Annual Report-en

Jason Kenney accusing Liberal Party of “Tammany Hall operation of patronage”

Consider this quote from Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity Jason Kenney that he gave to reporters last week after caucus in LĂ©vis, Quebec:

“Typically, I think, the Liberals pursued what some people have called an ethnic-brokerage model of outreach, where they would identify leaders of certain groups who somehow magically would become the recipients of substantial grants and subsidies for their community organizations”

What is Kenney talking about? A quick Google search found this:

TORONTO, February 9, 2005 — Member of Parliament (Scarborough–Agincourt) Jim Karygiannis, on behalf of Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women Liza Frulla, today announced $46,275 in funding for the Canadian Arab Federation. The funds will allow the organization to develop its own Web site.

“Until now, there really has been no Web site highlighting all the many contributions made by Canadians of Arab origin to our society,” said Mr. Karygiannis. “This project will help Web users from Canada and abroad to better understand this vast community.”

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Minister responsible for Ontario Joseph Volpe added his support. “This Web site will be a valuable networking tool for members of the Arab-Canadian community,” said Minister Volpe.

“The Internet enables us to engage in dialogue with people of all backgrounds and all cultures,” said Minister Frulla. “If we wish to build a truly diverse society in which all communities are represented, we must invest in Web sites like this one.”

Let’s check out what $46,275 buys in web development.


Click here to visit the website

This website features a nice splash page that goes to a website that doesn’t appear to be maintained as it features broken links and an event calendar long forgotten. The website’s content doesn’t seem have taken much time to produce as some of the text has been lifted from other sources online.

I emailed Jason Kenney’s office for a reaction, and received comment from Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s Director of Communications.

“It really is outrageous the way that Liberal-friendly ethnic community leaders would find their loyalty rewarded with government handouts. To say the problem was systematic understates, I think palpably, the extent of the Tammany Hall operation the Liberals tried to build when in government.”

“[The Canadian Arab Federation] current National President Khaled Mouammar is a former Liberal political appointee who gained some notoriety for his role in the last Liberal leadership campaign. CAF’s previous National President is Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP elected in 2006.

“Between 2003 and 2005, when Alghabra was CAF’s president, CAF received more than $400,000 in hand-outs from the Department of Canadian Heritage alone.

“They were awarded a $330,565 grant to ‘build organisational capacity’, another $46,399 to ‘communicate effectively with governments at all levels’, and a further $46,275 to design a website.”

Yet this problem doesn’t only reside with Liberals. Canwest’s David Akin points out the (for lack of a better term) pork that the Conservatives have been delivering too. Is this spending necessary?

UPDATE: Interesting question. If the CAF website was produced in partnership with Canadian Heritage, why isn’t it in both official languages?