Evidence of meeting #159 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was council.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Simon Brault  Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Steven Blaney

Welcome to this 159th meeting of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. It is my pleasure to be here today, in the absence of Ms. Julie Dabrusin, who has been detained by other business.

Without further ado, I will introduce our sole witness for today's meeting, which will last one hour. We are pleased to welcome Simon Brault, who is Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Mr. Brault, I believe you have prepared some speaking notes for us. I invite you to deliver them and welcome you once again to the committee.

3:45 p.m.

Simon Brault Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Thank you for having me. I am honoured to be here.

The Canada Council for the Arts has had the enormous privilege of seeing its budget sharply increased. It is important for us to answer questions from parliamentarians, artists and the public on what we do with that money.

By way of introduction, I would point out that the council has undergone a radical transformation since 2015. That major change began in 2015, when I became director of the council. Since I had previously been its vice-chair for 10 years, I was already familiar with the organization.

The purpose of that transformation was essentially to simplify programs and to ensure the council provided more support to artists in accordance with their wishes based on different, more future-oriented business models. Here are a few figures to illustrate the scope of the change. When I became director, the council was managing roughly 150 programs. Today we have 6. The duties of approximately 70% of the council's employees have been changed to enable them to work differently, to act differently and to expand the council's influence in the arts community.

Then in 2016 we released a strategic plan. The title is “Shaping a New Future: Strategic Plan 2016-2021”, and there were four big commitments in that strategy plan.

The first one was that we would increase our support to artists, collectives and organizations striving for artistic excellence and greater engagement in the arts by an increasingly diverse public.

The second commitment we made was that we would amplify the quality, scale and sharing of Canadian art through digital technology.

The third one was that we would invest to renew the relationship between indigenous artists and indigenous and non-indigenous audiences for a shared future.

Finally, the fourth big commitment we made at that time was that we would raise the international profile of Canadians art and artists.

Each of these commitments was supported by very specific targets in order to make it happen.

On March 22, 2016, the Government of Canada decided to double the council's budget over five years. That resulted in an additional appropriation of approximately $550 million to 2021, slightly more than half a billion dollars, in the arts sector. An investment of that scale has never happened in the council's history. We have very clearly announced our financial intentions to the community and to the Canadian public.

The first thing we wanted to achieve was to modify the distribution of funds. Before the doubling of the budget, in every year there was a high proportion of our funds that was locked into ongoing operating grants, and there was very little flexibility and less and less flexibility at every level of the system—both at the municipal level and the provincial level—to accommodate projects and to open the doors and the windows to diversity.

There was a sense that things were not moving a lot and that the Canadian art system would less and less reflect the society that supports it, so we wanted to make sure that we would bring more flexibility into the system with the new money and that we would move the needle from roughly 67% going to core funding to 50-50, and we are already almost there.

We also made the announcement that we would take a portion of the new money, meaning $88.5 million, to create a very important digital strategy fund in order to help the art sector to transition, to adapt, to cope with the digital possibilities and capacities that we have in Canada and worldwide.

We also made the commitment that we would triple the investment to support indigenous creation, and not only augment the investment but rethink and reframe the way we do the support to make sure that it will be done less from a Eurocentric perspective and more according to indigenous world views with a program that is completely administered by a staff of indigenous descent and indigenous peers.

Finally, we made the commitment that we would double, over five years, the investments of the Canada Council for access to international markets.

We also made a very significant commitment that 88.5% of all the new money that the Canada Council receives will go directly to artists and arts organizations. That was a very bold commitment, because it meant that the bulk of the money would not serve to develop more bureaucratic capacities but go directly into the sector.

As of last month, the council had received, so far, $225 million, or 41% of all the new money I mentioned, the $550 million. As of today, in the arts system in Canada, $202 million, or 90% of the money we received, has been directly invested and distributed across Canada for artistic groups and arts organizations and to support projects. It's a big change. It's a big revolution in terms of the arts system.

It's clear that one of the difficulties with an announcement such as this one is that it generates a lot of expectations. First, most of the artists who heard that the budget was doubled thought it was happening overnight, not over five years. There were a lot of needs expressed and there were, again, a lot of expectations. Some of them were unrealistic, but our duty and our responsibility is to deal with all of those expectations calmly, with empathy and understanding, and to explain the choices we made. It's clear that it was impossible for the Canada Council to make decisions in terms of augmenting the support for indigenous creation. Reinvesting in diversity, we made the commitment that 25% of all the new money we would get would go to first-time recipients. It was impossible to make all those commitments, and at the same time satisfy the expectations of everybody across Canada. We would have needed billions of dollars to do that.

What is really important is that we made choices, and I can say now that we made very strong inroads in terms of reconciliation, in terms of creating new possibilities for our Canadian artists and arts organizations on the world stage, in terms of growing and consolidating what I could call the independent artistic scene across Canada, and in terms of inviting and supporting new artists and new voices across Canada.

One of the unrealistic expectations currently under considerable discussion is the regional distribution of council funding.

As a federal funding agency, the Canada Council for the Arts invests in provincial, municipal and local ecosystems that are highly diversified in the funding they receive, the size of organizations in those ecosystems and their funding history.

Every time we invest in Canada, we are aware that it is in very different contexts across the country, and contexts that are ever-changing, because the Canada Council represents only one portion of all the public money invested, and the level of investment and the way the cultural ecosystem works is very different from one province to another.

What we are trying to do, in fact, is not to come to a point where we would create a system in which public funding would be equal in every province in Canada. It's impossible to achieve—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Steven Blaney

Mr. Brault, I will allow you another minute, and then we will go to a round of questions.

3:55 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

What we want to do is make sure that the success rate is equal. We want to make sure that anywhere in Canada—in Caraquet, Iqaluit, Montreal, Rimouski or Toronto—any artist applying to the Canada Council would have the same reasonable chance to get funding.

The rate of success is the successful applications relative to the number of applications that we get. At this point, I can say that the rate of success is absolutely comparable in Canada. Over the last three years, we did not make any significant shifts in terms of how the money is distributed on a regional basis. In fact, the only shift that happened was less than 1%.

I will conclude by saying that we are living in a very interesting moment right now. We are on target in terms of the goals we expressed and the investment targets that we released, explained and published three years ago.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Steven Blaney

Thank you very much, Mr. Brault.

Without further ado, I turn the floor over to Mr. Boissonnault, who is eager to ask you some probing questions.

May 16th, 2019 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Brault, thank you for being with us today.

I'm going to switch to English because I have lots of things to say for my people back home. I'm channelling a mentor, a great Edmonton and Canadian musician and talent, and a distinguished senator, the late Tommy Banks.

Mr. Brault, we know each other well because I was previously parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

I have to say that I like your work and I love what the CCA stands for. I like that the Canada Council for the Arts funds the Edmonton Opera, the Alberta Ballet, the Winspear Centre for the arts, the Citadel Theatre and many other worthy organizations in Edmonton and Calgary.

What I cannot stand for are the numbers, Monsieur Brault. If we look at the numbers and the principle of regional equity, the Canada Council for the Arts is categorically failing Albertans.

Let's take a look at the numbers. After we doubled the funding for the Canada Council for the Arts.... I will share this, and I will send a document that has been helpfully prepared by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts—because they have enough money to do this kind of data crunching, and western arts groups do not.

Here are the numbers for 2017-18 for arts organizations funded by the CCA, per capita: Toronto, $16.62; Montreal, $30.73; Vancouver, $35.39. How much did Calgary get? It got $4.73. How much did Edmonton get per capita? It got $4.56.

Let's take a look at the provincial lens for the same year and the same funding, a year after the beginning of the doubling of the funding: British Columbia, 14.7%; Ontario, 32%; Quebec, 31%. Alberta got 5.7% of the funding.

On every single indicator—and this includes population, artists, assessors and funding—Alberta is at the bottom of the barrel. We are 12% of the population. We have 8% of the artists, 5% of the assessors, and just over 5% of the funding.

Monsieur Brault, how are you going to do regional equity, which is what the doubling of the funding was intended to do? I want to see more francophone artists. I want to see more indigenous artists. I want to see more LGBTQ artists. I am not seeing in the data a 25-year consistent underfunding of Alberta arts organizations moving a single needle. What are you and your organization going to do to address this egregious discrepancy in funding?

3:55 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

The first thing I want to say, and I think it's really important, is that the per capita rationale cannot work. It can't work because of the way the Canada Council is operating: We are responding to the requests we get. When you think about the per capita argument and you really push that argument to the limit, it's a very dangerous argument in a country like Canada, because you have a huge concentration of the population of artists in a very few cities.

The Canada Council is now investing in thousands of communities in Canada, and in fact, if you follow this per capita logic, you would come at the end of the day to concentrate your funding in four cities in Canada, and that's it, because that is where the artists are concentrated at a very high level.

What we try to do.... You're right that when you compare Alberta and B.C., especially, because they have more or less the same population size and number of artists and all that, you see that there is an issue there. I will give you—

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

The issue is a three times funding difference.

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

I will give you an example.

What we call an “institution” is an organization that has a budget of more than $2 million, so it has a certain size of operation. In Canada right now, the level of Canada Council funding that goes to institutions is roughly 22%. In a province such as Quebec, it's 13%; in Alberta, it's 46%.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Brault, I'm going to have to pause you there, because I have only six minutes.

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

If I get some more time, we're going to go back to what artists in my province call the “cabal” that has been set up.

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Here is the issue: You can't be a juror, an assessor, with the Canada Council for the Arts unless you actually have funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

It's not true.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Have you changed that?

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

Yes, absolutely. It has been changed.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Brault, we have artists who have tried and failed for 25 years to get funding from the CCA. It's not because there's no good art in Alberta.

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

I absolutely agree with you, but it's not true.

We need to realize that the issue with Alberta is something that I'm very familiar with. We are very concerned about that situation. What we want to do is grow the demand from the bottom up to the Canada Council.

Actually, we are moving the needle. The needle is moving. We have more applicants than before. We have a success rate that is progressing right now.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Brault, the logic doesn't hold. You had a surplus in 2018 of $49.3 million, yet we have artists who want more money. Where is the money going?

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

I'm sorry; we did not have a surplus. The surplus you saw in the financial statement is a surplus on paper because of our investment. It has nothing to do with the money we had to spend.

As I said before, 90% of the new money we got has been spent and is right now in the hands of arts organizations and artists across Canada. All the provinces and all the regions of Canada have more money now than they had two years ago.

However, what is a difficult and complex issue is that we need to address the very uneven arts system in Canada on a lot of issues.

I had the chance to do a town hall in Alberta, and yes, I get some people who are unhappy; I also get a lot of letters from people who are very happy right now, because what we are trying to do is to support and grow what we could call the “independent artistic scene” and what we could call the “middle class” of the arts system in Alberta. We realized that it is very difficult to sustain an ecosystem where half the money would go to a handful of institutions.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Before I run out of time—

4 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

We are addressing it. We are very serious about that.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Steven Blaney

Mr. Boissonnault, your time is up.

I will now turn to Mr. Shields as the second member to ask questions.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.