Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak this evening on Motion M-297, presented by my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes. It calls upon the government to, on the one hand, roll back the cuts it announced to various programs in the cultural sector and to restore funding for these programs to their fiscal 2008-2009 levels, and on the other hand, to provide direct assistance to artists by increasing the annual budget of the Canada Council for the Arts to $300 million.
The minister who spoke a few moments ago tells us that we never mentioned this before. Every day, he tables in the House, or shows—and he is not entitled do so, moreover—the two recommendations from the Bloc Québécois recovery program. The recovery plan I am holding, dated November 24, 2008, on page 5, document 20, tells us that the immediate measures called for by the Bloc are the restoration of cultural programs, which is exactly what we are talking about.
The minister also says that he has done so much for Quebec culture that it is astounding. No doubt that is why the Conservative Party is now polling lower than the NDP in Quebec. Everyone is just so thrilled with what has happened to culture.
The truth is that, during the month of August 2008, seven federal government funding programs for culture were abolished, these being the Arts Promotion Program, Trade Routes, National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector, New Media Research Networks Fund, Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, Canada Feature Film Fund and Canadian Music Memories Program.
As we have always said, this is definitely a purely ideological decision by the government, because it has never been able, despite repeated calls from all opposition parties to do so, to provide even the tiniest bit of a cost-benefit analysis to prove the inefficiency of those programs. Lots of fine talk, but nothing in black and white. This is really a matter of nickel and diming, since we are talking in total of a measly million or so out of a budget of billions, all for culture.
Quebec is, moreover, by far the hardest hit by these cuts. According to figures from the International Exchange for the Performing Arts, CINARS, 40% of funding to Trade Routes and 68% of funding to PromArt in 2006 and 2007 went to Quebec companies. These cuts hit cultural export activities particularly hard: PromArt, at $4.2 million, and Trade Routes, at $2 million, really have no equivalent anywhere else.
Quebec culture, just like Canadian culture, absolutely has to be exported in order to prosper because the local market is too small to ensure its survival. For example, if an artist like Christine Brouillet, an author with a large audience, were to settle for the Quebec market of six million people, she would not earn a living. She needs the entire francophonie market, where she can sell many more books to make a living.
That is why any reduction in support for exporting jeopardizes the very survival of culture in Quebec. My colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes, who has already spoken about this, just completed a tour of Quebec with our colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. I tagged along for one day. All arts-related organizations told them just how much the cuts hurt them and often even wondered whether they would survive as an organization.
To improve funding for artists, the Mouvement pour les arts et les lettres and the Bloc Québécois have been asking for more than five years that the annual budget of the Canada Council for the Arts be increased to $300 million per year. This would have a direct effect on the income of many artists, which is still below the poverty line, and would also have positive repercussions for community enrichment. We know that culture is profitable. In times of economic crisis, we should not cut back on profitable activities, we should invest in them.
Culture in Quebec represents 314,000 jobs. This economic sector provides 171,000 direct jobs to which must be added the indirect jobs.
In a 2008 document entitled Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy, which the Minister of Canadian Heritage should probably read, the Conference Board states that the multiplier for the cultural sector is 1.84, which means 314,000 jobs, or 171,000 direct jobs multiplied by 1.84, which adds up to 314,000 jobs.
In Canada, according to the Conference Board, the cultural industry produces some $85 billion in direct and indirect benefits, or 7.5% of Canada's gross domestic product. Clearly, it is not a minor industry. Some 1.1 million people make their living from jobs in the cultural industry alone. Yet the industry's funding is being cut in the middle of an economic crisis.
Tens of thousands of middle-class families earn their living from jobs in the cultural sector, and the average income from such jobs in Quebec in 2005 was $32,000.
In Montreal, in 2005 alone, culture generated $1.4 billion in economic spinoffs and was growing at a rate of 4.7% per year. That is not peanuts.
How many tax dollars did culture contribute to federal, provincial and municipal coffers in 2007? Nearly $25 billion. That is three times more than all governments, taken together, contributed to culture last year. Clearly, there is money to be made, and the government gets back three times more than it invests.
During our tour, we found that the arts community was not the only one criticizing cuts to culture. Members of the business community, people who know their numbers and can do cost accounting and profit analysis, were critical of the cuts too.
Among those criticizing the government were Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Marcel Côté, founding partner of the SECOR Group, Bernard Lamarre, one of the wealthiest men in Quebec, of SNC-Lavalin, and Hélène Desmarais, chair of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
These are business people who know that the arts are important and profitable. They are calling on the government to continue investing in the arts.
Internationally, we see proof every day that culture can be very profitable.
Take, for example, Guy Laliberté, who became a multi-billionaire—billionaire, not millionaire— just 25 years after building Cirque du Soleil from scratch and with the help of a grant from René Lévesque's discretionary budget.
Today, thousands of people work for Cirque du Soleil under excellent working conditions. Almost all the shows in Las Vegas are by Cirque du Soleil, which continues to go by its French name, even in Las Vegas. It is not called Circus of the Sun; it is called Cirque du Soleil.
There is the show Mystère at the Treasure Island hotel; Kà, which based on martial arts, at the MGM Grand hotel; Zumanity, a slightly sexier show, at the New York, New York hotel; Believe, with a lot of magic, at the Luxor hotel; O, at the Bellagio hotel; and Love, at the Mirage hotel.
That is what happens when we decide to invest in culture. All of this started with the presentation of a show called La Nouba at Walt Disney World in Orlando. As we speak, Cirque du Soleil is developing an Elvis Presley show that will be shown at City Center in Las Vegas.
Let us not forget Celine Dion, of course, who over the years has shattered all the show and earnings records at Caesars Palace.
I must also mention Robert Lepage, who plays throughout the world, or Luc Plamondon, whose musicals, like Starmania or Notre Dame de Paris, are featured around the world.
There is also Xavier Dolan—whom my colleague mentioned— who was the producer, writer and director of the movie J'ai tué ma mère, also known as I Killed my Mother, a film that won a number of awards in Cannes a few weeks ago. His movie has been sold in 14 countries, including the United States, England and France, but Telefilm Canada refused to invest one red cent.
While English-speaking Canadians are too often willing to adopt American culture as their own, Quebeckers know that their culture is profitable and is at the very heart of their identity. They support this culture in any way that they can.
They expect the government to do the same, and that is why we are here today to support this motion.