Mr. Speaker,it is an honour to be the first person to take part in the new parliamentary system around private members' motions. I guess one could say that I will go down in history today by being at the beginning of the roster.
It is my great pleasure to move Motion No. 293 today. The motion reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should celebrate and encourage Canada's magnificent and diverse culture by changing the Income Tax Act to exempt creative and interpretive artists from paying income tax on a percentage of income derived from copyright, neighbouring rights, and/or other income derived from the sale of any creative work.
I am aware of one amendment that will be proposed by my friend from Quebec City, and I welcome the amendment.
In the last Parliament, my colleague, Nelson Riis, introduced a similar motion calling on the government to give a general tax exemption of $30,000 for artists. That motion was defeated largely based on an argument by the parliamentary secretary for the minister of finance of the day, who said:
It is not clear that artists, writers or performers have greater needs than any other individuals with comparable incomes. Thus, to provide a special tax exemption to an individual simply because he or she engages in artistic activities would be very difficult to defend on equity grounds. It would also lead to requests for similar treatment for other groups that also believe they are deserving of special status.
Sadly, the debate rules of that day did not allow for rebuttal on my part, so I would like to take a second to address the notion that artists want special status and how that would be inequitable, or the other arguments from that day saying that the status of an artist is a hard one to define.
On matters relating to who is an artist, the motion I have put forward today gives a much clearer idea of what part of the income would be eligible for income tax relief and what part of the income would be limited specifically to the direct income from the sale of creative works. This would help to define, in my estimation, what income would be allowed as an artistic exemption and it gets to the issue of what exactly is an artist and brings it into the realm of the marketplace, that if a work of art is sold then it becomes income that is eligible under this motion.
In terms of the cost to the treasury, the motion calls for only a portion of income to be deductible and that level would be set by the Minister of Finance. That being said, we know that regardless of the level this measure would not be a great loss to the federal treasury given the fact that the average income of artists in this country is around $13,000 a year.
What precedents are there for this kind of exemption? We can start with Ireland. Ireland has an absolute exemption for income tax for creators. The total cost to the treasury in Ireland is less than 10% of our expenditure on the Canada Council, a total of less than $14 million or less than 50¢ per Canadian.
Quebec has also allowed for a deduction of up to $15,000 on copyright income and that seems to be working very well in that province and has allowed art to flourish in Quebec.
I wish to address some other misconceptions that I have heard about support to our artists in general. A while back I heard from another member of the House who proclaimed that she did not believe we needed any special support for artists, the reason being that personalities and artists, such as Céline Dion and Shania Twain, have been so successful internationally, so why do we need to support our artists?
I would say that unfortunately this kind of mentality presumes that all art in Canada can be judged by commercial success in the international marketplace. It suggests that people who create outside the mainstream, which means less commercial success, are somehow less creative. It views art only as a commodity, only to be judged by its market value.
Although the motion involves changes to the Income Tax Act, the motion, strangely, is not about income. The motion is not about money, given the fact that artists are not making very much money to begin with. I would say it is more about recognition and respect for the creators in our country, and respect and recognition within one of the central laws of our country, the Income Tax Act.
The argument about special status put forward earlier by the parliamentary secretary does not stand up in many ways. In one way we have to look at it, sadly, that our current Income Tax Act is full of special statuses for classes of people, mostly people with money. We have special exemptions for family trusts so that wealthy families can shelter huge incomes for their children. We have special rules allowing entrepreneurs to deduct expenses related to their businesses. We allow the sheltering of income made by playing the stock market or making certain types of investments. When artists have come looking for tax recognition the government has said no because the finance department cries special status as if it is brand new concept. The fact is that art and culture in this country are special. Art and culture are special in the life of a nation.
His Excellency John Ralston Saul, one of Canada's most respected writers and philosophers, has had much to say on culture and its place in Canada. In 1999 he made the point that culture has been presented over the last few decades as if somehow it were a marginal adjunct to society. History tells us that this is nonsense. Culture either exists as the core element to society or it really is not culture at all. Culture is the motor of any successful society.
Up until six years ago, when I became a member of Parliament, I made my living as a playwright and filmmaker in this country. Many of my friends continue to be artists, sculptors, playwrights, directors and painters. Most of them continue to cobble together a living without one bit or one wit of security but also with little real choice in the matter because they are driven to create and to express themselves. They believe they have something to say and that they can make people laugh, cry, feel deeply or change their courses of action, that they can make people feel rage about injustice, cry out, feel deeply about humanity, about war, about terror, about deepening their spiritual journeys, about strengthening their connection to kin and community and about their sense of responsibility in their society. In a word, they believe, rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, or foolishly, that their tiny contributions and creations can have an impact, positive or negative, on the human condition.
For this faint hope, they labour mightily in the field of culture making on average about $13,000 a year. They give up a great deal for the special status of being artists. People who have made the choice to be creators often find they have no choice but to live in poverty. To be an artist in this country means to concentrate on creating while worrying about paying the rent and buying food. It means struggling to focus on art while dealing with overdue bills and trying to practise a craft when the basic costs of the tools are sometimes too expensive. It means trying to keep a creative spark alive, a creative work moving ahead over a period of years, while working on jobs which help pay the bills. It often means forgoing family and children altogether. It often means disrupting marriages, families and home lives since people have to travel great distances to work as artists, directors and actors.
We are tremendously richer because of the sacrifice of artists in our country. Our nation would be far worse off without the stout-hearted band of creators who chronicle its course, tell its story, shine light in the dark corners and provide the strength to face an uncertain future.
That is why I take every opportunity to raise issues of culture and creation in the House: because we need to value creation as much as we value money.
I hope that in a few months we will all stand in our places here to pass this motion to start giving creators a limited income tax exemption on their income directly derived from the sale of their work.
Previous debate on this subject in this place has pointed to the organizational support that successive governments have put in place as being adequate and that therefore no extra support is needed for individual artists. People bring up the budgets for the Canada Council, the CBC, the National Gallery, the NFB and Telefilm. They usually use recent numbers, which do not show how the overall cultural supports have been drastically reduced since the mid-nineties. Most important, these moneys do not recognize individual creators' contributions. They are more usually designed to support the amorphous cultural industries.
The motion uses the individual tax return to award the individual creator. It is a strongly symbolic way of saying to the creators that our culture, our society, values their lonely efforts, their creative spirits. But we should also understand who really pays for our collective successes in the cultural sector. In 1982 Canada commissioned a study of our cultural sector; it is called the Applebaum-Hébert report. One of its overall findings was that the largest subsidy to cultural life in Canada comes not from governments, corporations or other patrons, but from the artists themselves for their unpaid or underpaid work.
It looks like things are now worse. In December last year, four months ago, the Cultural Human Resources Council issued its latest report, called “Face of the Future”. I would like to read one paragraph from the report, which looks at trends in the cultural sector:
Despite general growth in the sector, visual artists' annual income, which is extremely low to start with, is dropping. Between 1990 and 1995, Canadian craftspeople experienced a 21% decrease in their average annual income, dropping from an average of $13,480 to $10,606 per annum. In 1995, visual artists earned an average annual income of $12,600, which represented only 47.5% of the average annual income of the total workforce that year; craftspersons earned an average of $10,600 that year, or 40% of the total workforce.
So things are getting worse, and the successes in the sector are not because of government support but because of the sacrifices of individual creators.
I hope members of the House will see this motion as an important and constructive step in attacking the obstacles thrown in the way of our creators. I hope they will see it as a small way of relieving the economic grind facing them, perhaps allowing them to work in a more concentrated way on their art, perhaps allowing them to create a book or a play in one year instead of three or four. It would give them some small financial relief, but it would also give them one big boost symbolically in terms of their importance to this country.
By passing the motion we would be saying as a nation that what creators do is special to us. We would be collectively recognizing their contribution. We would be saying that we thank them, that we need them, and that we cannot exist without them.
I thank hon. members for listening to me today and I look forward to the debate that is going to unfold in the next couple of months on this very important issue and this very important recognition of artists in our country.