Evidence of meeting #51 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 recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

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

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you, everyone, for being here.

I want to welcome Mr. Brault, director and chief executive officer of the Canada Council for the Arts. Thank you for coming.

I am sorry to keep you waiting. We have an hour with you, so we will go however long we need to today. You know how it works. You have 10 minutes to tell us what you want about the Canada Council, your future plans, and so on. Then, of course, we will have questions by members.

Mr. Brault, please begin.

4:10 p.m.

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

I gave you a copy of a deck in French and English. I will essentially do a very short summary of that presentation.

This year—actually next week, on March 28—the Canada Council is celebrating 60 years since our founding. It's a very exciting time for the Canada Council. We are very deeply engaged in a profound transformation and, I would say, refoundation of the organization. Over the last two years we have been reconfiguring all our granting programs to make them more simple, more effective, and more outcome driven.

Basically what we're trying to do as an arts council is to support the artists and the artistic organizations more on their own terms, as opposed to telling them what to do in order to get money from the Canada Council. It's a less prescriptive model. It's more a model that is really open and answering and responding in an agile way to the needs, possibilities, and opportunities expressed by artists and artistic organizations.

Last year, the federal budget announced the progressive doubling of the budget of the Canada Council for the Arts over a five-year period. We have just concluded the first of these five years, for which we received an additional $40 million. For each following year until 2021, a $35-million amount will be added.

The council published a strategic plan that describes the broad orientations of the organization for the next years. I have provided copies of the document. Of course, the council's investments are in line with these orientations.

In the context of the doubling of our budget, we committed in a very ambitious way to dedicating 88% of the $500 million in new money directly to the arts sector. So there will be very little overhead. In fact, in the context of the doubling of our budget and with more volume in operations, our plan is to have only 16% more staff for that doubled operation. It's very aggressive, very ambitious, but also needed.

The first big project we had with the new money was to mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Canada. We created a program called “new chapter”.

In the context of that program, almost 2,100 exceptional projects were submitted to the Canada Council for the Arts. Those projects represented approximately 8.5 normal years of Canada Council subsidies. There is an immense demand. Unfortunately, we can only support close to 10% of those projects. We will soon be announcing which projects we decided to support.

The good news is that there are a lot of art projects across Canada, and those projects will really create what I would say is the artistic legacy of the 150th anniversary: unusual projects, unusual alliances between artists and artistic groups. We'll see over the years, but I think it will be a resounding success from an artistic and cultural point of view.

That's my presentation. I will be happy to answer any of your questions.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much.

We're going to have a question and answer period. In the first round of questions, you'll have seven minutes, which includes the questions and the answers.

We're going to begin with Mr. Breton, for the Liberals.

March 21st, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

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

I have a few questions with regard to the funding of the Canada Council for the Arts, even though you probably mentioned this in your written presentation.

You mentioned that in 2015, the council had announced changes to the previous funding model. I would like you to explain in some detail what those changes are, why you made them, and why the new model will be simpler or more advantageous for the organizations or individuals concerned.

4:15 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

When I began to manage the Canada Council, it had approximately 147 programs. They were in fact a series of programs that allowed the council to meet needs in theatre, dance, the visual arts and literature. Each one of those disciplines had its own programs and subprograms. The system was extremely complex. Although the purpose of those programs was to increase the quantity of literature or theatre, it was particularly difficult to assess what impact they had on Canadians as a whole, and how they structured the cultural milieu.

We applied considerable effort to determining what those programs had in common. We realized that we could group all of these programs into six broad ones. For example, one program covers the entire international sphere. All artistic disciplines, whatever they may be, generally have an international component. Another program involves outreach in Canada. There is also one for aboriginal arts. Previously, support for aboriginal art was divided among the 147 programs. It was very difficult to establish a strategy. We also created three other programs. One of them will cover all innovation and creation in the future. Another program will support existing organizations that in a way represent the legacy of the past 60 years. Finally, there is a program that supports new artistic practice models.

By having far fewer programs we will be able to redesign them with reference to common objectives, with the help of concrete measures. We will also be able to compare the merit of the submissions we receive, no matter whom they come from and which artistic discipline they involve.

When we had to work with over 140 programs, things were very complicated. A few months ago we designed and launched a portal that allows any artist or aspiring artist to create a profile, somewhat like on Facebook, and allows them to see which programs they can apply for. People can describe their art and can automatically see whether they are eligible for any program within the Canada Council.

The objective is to simplify access, but also to allow us to measure the impact of our investment. Throughout the world people try to measure the quantitative and qualitative effects of public investments in arts and culture. The redesign of our programs allowed us to integrate those concerns into the architecture of our programs.

The fact that the council's budget was doubled allowed us to go further, that is to say not only to properly finance those programs, but also to create an extremely important strategic fund. Its purpose is to help the arts sector make a true transition to digital. Last week, there was broad media coverage of a summit in Montreal whose objective was to determine what the arts environment needs to adapt to the digital world and to be able to benefit from it rather than being its victim.

That is the reorganization we have carried out. Among other things, we had to organize teams and juries so that we can function in a much simpler way, and so that ordinary mortals may also understand things more easily.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

When will that be implemented?

4:15 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

The new funding model will be launched in two weeks, on April 1, 2017. As I said earlier, we created the portal and we announced it in the last year. More than 16,000 artists and artistic organizations have already registered. They have not submitted applications yet, but they created their profile and they know where to submit requests. We are going to begin to receive applications in April and to make permanent investments as of next summer.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

According to what I understand, the total budget of the Canada Council is $550 million. Is that correct?

4:20 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

No, before the increases last year, the council's annual budget was $180 million. In 2021, it is going to be $360 million. However, to arrive at that figure over the next five years, there will be gradual investments that will total $550 million.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

I understand. That is what the $550 million corresponds to.

As for my next question, you have already broached the topic.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

You have one minute, Mr. Breton.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Very well, thank you.

Mr. Brault, you mentioned that part of that $550 million would be allocated to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. I would like to know what part of that sum is allocated to that and what your focus will be.

4:20 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

We have invested $40 million, $35 million of which will go to subsidies. Regarding those $35 million, we are still receiving requests. Two thousand one hundred artistic projects were submitted to the council. We will probably choose 200 by the end of the process.

These projects are very varied. Some are theatre creation projects, several are in the multidisciplinary creation area, whereas many of them focus on the reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. There is really a whole range of projects.

The fact remains that for us it is important that support be given to projects that would normally be out of reach for the artists or artistic organizations that propose them. It has to be something exceptional for those organizations or artists, as well as for the Canadian public. Some of those projects, in addition, will be given international exposure.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Thank you, Mr. Brault.

4:20 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you.

Now I will go to Mr. Van Loan, for the Conservatives.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Thank you very much.

In my constituency I have, surprisingly to many people, a vibrant arts community. It's not that surprising when you think about it: we're on the periphery of the GTA, and of course many artists can't afford to live in an overheated market—even before it was overheated. We provide that proximity with an affordable cost of living—or it used to be—for many artists. It's been very attractive.

As a result, our community has had a tremendously vibrant arts community, with very impressive people in the fields of music, a vibrant community in semi-professional and professional theatre—the professional part until the Red Barn burned down. When it burned down, the loss was unfortunate, but there you are. We have the Georgina art gallery, again with high standards, benefiting from the fact that around Lake Simcoe you have wealthy cottagers willing to be benefactors of their collections in this extraordinary little venue.

From all of these groups I hear a common refrain about the Canada Council: it's an old boys' club, and they're locked out; they are never funded. Their funding applications always fail; it's rare to find one that is successful in my constituency.

I see that there is a commitment in your deck to increasing the proportion of grants that are made to new recipients, people who don't commonly receive them, but I want your comment on that perception, certainly in my constituency among the arts community, that the Canada Council is an old boys' club that doesn't include them.

4:20 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

It's something I hear, as you can imagine. In your constituency, as in any of them, you have organizations and artists who are supported and some who are not. The arts sector and the arts in general, I would say after having lived 36 years in that sector, is a very highly competitive sector. I used to run the National Theatre School, for which we would audition 1,500 kids to take 10 to become professional actors. It's very competitive and will remain competitive.

With the new money, what we want to do is to be able to accommodate more artists. Also, we do not want to not force artists to create organizations over and over again. We think that model is exhausted.

Right now, the Canada Council is spending 64% of all of its money to support organizations with what we call “core funding”. The minute you start the year, then 65% of the money is committed to a ballet company, galleries, and all of that infrastructure.

What we want to do over the next five years is go to a situation whereby 50% of the money will go to core-funded organizations and 50% will remain free every year for newcomers and new projects, to have more movement in the way we.... To do that means we need to put 224% more money in what we call “project grants” to make sure there will be more movement in the entire system. I think it will be successful; I think it's needed.

Again, it will remain competitive. For the new chapter program that I just mentioned—the program for the 150th—we had many applicants and recipients who are not the usual suspects, because these were only project grants, but the program was very competitive.

What I would tell people who say it's an old boys' club is that, first of all, it's not true; secondly, with the new programs, we're in new territory. With the new portal, you can create your profile, you can have a clear indication of what your eligibility is, and you can compete. There are open programs and there is more money, but you compete and prepare your application to be really good and convince the juries.

The decisions about who should get the money are made by jurors. Every year there is a rotation of probably 800 individuals coming from all over Canada who come to assess the applications, so it's not always the same people evaluating the projects.

We have, however, 16,000 clients in Canada, so it's large.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

You have two minutes left, Peter.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Your board structure is very interesting. You knew I was going to ask this question. You have a chair, you have a vice-chair, and you have nine members, but only three have been filled, so you have six vacancies.

4:25 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

Actually, as of today we have five board members, and the total count should be eleven. I understand that in the very near future there will be appointments to completely fill the board. Yes, right now we only have five board members and we need eleven. It's coming.

There was a big announcement. I heard there were hundreds of people applying to be on the board of the Canada Council, and the government will make its decisions and appoint board members.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

But in an important year like this, when we're celebrating 150 years of Confederation, we have five board members, and we're short more?

4:25 p.m.

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Council for the Arts

Simon Brault

As a CEO, it's something I have absolutely no control over. This is a governmental and political process. We hope those positions will be filled very soon. Obviously what we did over the last few months was make sure we worked with the board members we have and continued the work no matter. We are, however, expecting appointments very soon.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much. Your time is up, Mr. Waugh.

We'll now go to Mr. Nantel for the NDP.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Brault, thank you very much for being here.

Mr. Waugh's question is entirely relevant. In fact, we usually wait for the appointments to be made. The Liberals had promised to change and tidy up the nomination process, so it is possible that this process will be very long. However, at a given point, it will become problematic.

What are the criteria for someone to be appointed to this board? Obviously it is a very important board of directors. I want to point out that I have complete confidence in you. In this regard I can compare you to Ms. Braband at Telefilm Canada. Indeed, one still feels you have that fresh enthusiasm for your work, although you have been in the position for a long time. You have been with the Canada Council for the Arts for some 20 years, and no one is in a better position than you are to manage its evolution.

That said, that mutation is ambitious. You are integrating the new technologies, and in order to do so you have a very large budget, an unprecedented budget.

Among your new mandates, I suspect that you will be touching on the industrial sector—perhaps the word “industrial” is not the right word.