If there’s one thing that I learned having worked in the depths of the Ottawa bureaucracy, it’s that departments really don’t talk to one another very well. And that’s why it came as little surprise when I came across this article that talked about how Canada nearly lost out on some very important pieces of our national art history because of such departmental dithering.
I will grant you, the magnitude of this purchase is normally outside the range of what Library and Archives Canada normally acquires, and that I’m sure the added difficulties of dealing with the National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization as departments going in on the major purchase didn’t help either. But what was up for offer was an important collection of pieces that are from the founding of our nation. You might think that a grown-up country might see this as a bit of a priority, since our history is a large part of what defines us. We’re often grappling with the existential crisis of our national identity, so you’d think that the bits and pieces of the days that formed us might be important?
My question in reading this article was just where was the Heritage Minister as this all went down? Why didn’t she step in to see that things started moving before the family that held the collection put it up on the auction block? But then I looked at just who the Minister was during the process. When it all began in June of 2007, the Minister was Bev Oda, and aside from general incompetence, Oda was busy trying to sabotage things like Status of Women and the CBC budget. That is, when she wasn’t riding in limousines on taxpayer dollars. And then when she was replaced by Josée Verner in August, well, Verner was probably knee-deep in briefing books and trying to raise Harper’s profile in Québec to actually pay attention to this deal.
But more than just the particular ineptitude of Heritage Ministers in this government, I think this kind of story demonstrates the antipathy that this government has towards the arts. For as much as they claim that they’ve increased arts funding, it’s largely a misnomer. They may have increased the budget of Canadian Heritage, but almost none of it has gone to any arts or festivals. In fact, nearly all of the increased money has gone towards sports or the 2010 Olympics. And don’t get me wrong—our sports programmes have been woefully under-funded for years, and it showed at our rather dismal Olympic performances.
But sports funding is not arts funding, no matter that they’re in the same department, and because this government didn’t actually try to step up to the plate, we very nearly lost out on some rare and important pieces that helped to shape our identity. Its’ a level of irresponsibility that is shocking, but not all that surprising, given everything that has gone on to date.