Protecting the Arts & Culture in Canada

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In 1993, the country was slowly recovering from an intense recession, which had put a considerable strain on public finances.  Governments throughout the Western world were understandably searching for ways to cut costs and downsize their operations.  In Canada, this would manifest itself at many levels of government, including the federal government’s introduction and passage of, as part of its 1992 Budget, Bill C-93, A proposal to streamline federal agencies.  This omnibus bill set out to merge the Canada Council of the Arts, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the cultural affairs section of the then Department of External Affairs. I believed this to be an ill-advised attempt to cut costs and the bill would encounter wide-ranging criticism from stakeholders, civil society groups and the media – and even from backbenchers of the governing party.  Several Progressive Conservative Senators, myself included, remained deeply concerned about the consequences of the bill upon the arts and cultural communities in Canada, and certainly upon the highly-regarded work of the SSHRC as well as the significant cultural diplomacy efforts of Canada’s Foreign Ministry.

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It was, and continues to be, my conviction that passing such ill-conceived legislation would run counter to the roles and responsibilities of a Senator, that of practicing “sober second thought,” regardless of party affiliation.  After hearing from numerous witnesses, members of Senate Committees were told repeatedly that amalgamating these very distinct agencies, each servicing quite distinct clientele, into one single body, would result in debatable savings (and in some estimates, even costs) to the federal treasury and, ultimately throw these fine institutions and the incredible work they do into disarray.  Led by former Senator Finlay MacDonald, seven PC Senators including myself, joined together to vote against C-93, once again producing a tie vote of 39 to 39 in the Senate and defeating the government’s legislation.  Over twenty years later, it is with great satisfaction that we have seen these institutions stand the test of time and continue to undertake the stellar work that they do on behalf of all Canadians.