Chairs had to be brought out in the Charlotte Street Arts Centre Auditorium to accommodate the varied crowd that filled the room at the Fredericton Riding All Candidates Meeting put on by the Fredericton Arts Alliance about Arts and Culture on Monday, Sept. 14 at 7 pm.
After a brief welcome by a representative from the Fredericton Arts Alliance, Susanne Alexander from Goose Lane Editions moderated the event that was structured as if it was a debate.
The incumbent, Keith Ashfield, paid homage to Fredericton because, unlike many places, it has a long-established cultural debate for the community. Like the other candidates, Ashfield mentioned that “culture is important to the social vitality” of our community and asserted that the Conservative Party was interested in supporting and sustaining “projects as diverse as the people [Ashfield has] represented.” He repeatedly stressed the need to connect “culture and economic vitality” through projects like those sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Keith Ashfield even suggested that he was “probably the least partisan politician you’ll find in the world.”
Matt De Courcey from the Liberal Party believes that it is “time for the federal government to reengage” in the Arts Community by “fostering creativity and entrepreneurship” in our community. His party pledges to make a $20 billion investment over the next ten years to counter the “unfair and wrongheaded cuts to public broadcasting” and provide “long term and stable funding for the federal broadcaster.”
Sharon Scott-Levesque from the NDP was visibly nervous as she recalled her own art lessons for 25 cents when she was a girl and bungled the name of one of Fredericton’s foremost events, the “Silverware [Film] Festival.” She denounced the Conservatives and the Liberals who “used our heritage for partisan politics” and have “taken a knife” to our culture. The NDP will deliver “stable, multi-year funding” to “ensure public broadcasting’s editorial independence”.
Mary Lou Babineau commented that the Green Party’s “vision is that arts and cultural is not peripheral (…) but very central.” Her party’s platform cites from author Margaret Atwood about the value of the arts and sets out three parameters of the theme of arts and culture. She outlined the need for stable, predictable and transparent funding for the arts and culture with government remaining at arm’s length of the creative community. According to Babineau, when government defines priorities from above, strange things start to happen, like a “passion for the War of 1812.” Babineau also believes in protecting Canadian content in trade without compromise.
Candidates answered questions for over an hour on a variety of issues from the floor.
On the subject of public broadcasting, all the candidates seemed on the same page. Babineau stated that “stable funding is important in the era of globalization, the way to counter globalization is to ensure that public broadcasting is well-funded.” Scott-Levesque specified that CBC and Radio Canada are a “vital service to minority language groups throughout the country.” Ashfield claims he is an avid CBC listener and he will support it in the future. However, he repeatedly asserted that the government does not have a role to play: “these are crown corporations (CBC, Canada Council for the Arts). We don’t influence how they spend their money.”
From the floor, Richard Hornsby, the Director of the Centre for Musical Arts at UNB, brought up a concern about “the erosion in the ability of organizations to speak to government” over the past years with many organizations having lost their core funding. Babineau reminded the crowd that “budgets are choices” and deplored the reduction in Statistics Canada reporting, a fact that doesn’t allow Canadians to clearly see where funding is going.
When a question was raised about funding for First Nations Art and Culture, while Ashfield reiterated the challenges for Aboriginal communities, Babineau signaled the “need for specific policy measures stemming from the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Report, and to work together in collaborative projects to carry out the mission of the Report.” De Courcey declared that his party would make an “investment in First Nations’ Education,” among other things, and “safeguard aboriginal languages,” in particular.
At the close of the evening’s event, Alexander remarked on the collegiality of the event and thanked the candidates for their candour. The public was invited to stay and mingle with the candidates at a reception.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.