Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak in this adjournment debate.
I have chosen to take part this evening because I asked a question in this House on February 4 of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and did not get a satisfactory answer. I asked him how it was that he preferred to spend $25 million to bring foreign artists to Toronto and to cut $45 million from artists here who promote Quebec and Canadian culture abroad. As a result, the entire arts community is against him. I asked him how he could claim to be listening to artists and the cultural community, and how he could have the gall to say that the budget that had just been tabled in the House was a good thing. It was a good thing for his two chums in Toronto who were raking in a lot of money from the investment of $25 million of this government's money.
I went on to say that Quebec's entire cultural community was opposed to this approach and to making this a priority. The money for artists must go first of all to the artists. What is more, that same week, within days, it was reported in a study commissioned and released by the Minister of Canadian Heritage that artists were living in deplorable conditions on an average annual income of barely $20,000. There we have the minister taking $25 million and handing it over to some people in Toronto to create the Canada Prizes, six-figure awards to foreign artists, while our own are barely making ends meet. They make an average of $20,000 a year. That made no sense to me then, and it makes no more today. The minister did not give me a satisfactory answer to that.
Obviously, the minister will say this is not true, and that everyone is not against him; one person said he was OK. That is what he told me. One person as opposed to all of Quebec. That is an absolutely ridiculous answer. I understand he is required to give an answer when I ask questions, but he ought to make a better choice of words. He also said that he had invested unprecedented amounts in the history of this country in arts and culture.
Seriously though: “unprecedented amounts”. The amounts he invested are basically the same, give or take a few million dollars, as in previous years. I have not done the math, but I am sure that, in constant dollars, today's artists are losing out, particularly because they have just lost $45 million. Last year, the government cut $45 million from its programs, $26 million of that in August. Trade Routes and PromArt were important programs that enabled artists, cultural organizations, and dance and theatre companies to travel abroad, pay their bills and make it to the end of the fiscal year. Now they cannot do any of that because these programs no longer exist.
On November 20, the minister told me that he had transferred $21 million to the Olympic torch relay. During question period, he said: “We gave that money to the torch relay”.