Do Albertans deserve art?

Alberta gets the shaft when it comes to Ottawa’s art spending across Canada. Do Albertan’s not deserve their fair share of art?

Sam Forster Montreal QC

After more than a century of perceived mistreatment at the hands of the federal government, a handful of Alberta MPs have decided that enough is enough. Michelle Rempel Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz, and Arnold Viersen have, with their publication of the Buffalo Declaration, drawn a line in the sand. Alberta has been stiffed for the last time.

The 13-page declaration describes the myriad ways in which the province has historically been mistreated in Confederation. It also proposes solutions—some concrete, and some more esoteric—that the federal government must adopt in order to right past wrongs.

Generally speaking, the nation’s pundits have agreed that the declaration is the same sort of knackered whining that has always come from loose-lipped Albertan conservatives. Generation after generation after generation, there seems to be a limitless cache of grievances to air and rabble to rouse. Assuredly, the rabble has been roused.

The National Post‘s Colby Cosh could do little more than mock the message put forth by the Conservative politicians—that struggling Albertans and their sensible neighbours ought to address the systemic inequities of Confederation.

“Is this the sort of language that you would expect to hear from a band of self-reliant classical-liberal pluralists who believe in equality of opportunity rather than redistributive egalitarianism? It savours more of post-war post-Marxism to me; Wexit with a sprinkling of Frantz Fanon, or Pamela Palmater,” wrote Cosh.

Jason Markusoff of Maclean’s chided the declaration as “wholly an Alberta-first distinct society document.”

Chris Turner painted the authors as the same breed of lamebrained ranchers who subscribe to the folk wisdom of the Stampede:

To the extent that the declaration occasionally wanders into adage and aphorism, as all documents branded as declarations tend to do, it will fail to persuade sceptical Buffalonians and oppositional Laurentians alike. Normally, the only way Western separatist movements gain traction is by pointing to tangible issues like transfer payments, provincial jurisdiction, underrepresentation in federal government, etc., etc.

But one of the specific proposals of the declaration that is often overlooked, despite being incredibly difficult to rebuke, is increased arts and cultural spending in Alberta. In the text of their declaration, the four MPs demand that the federal government “mandate equitable regional distribution of funding to arts and culture as part of federal spending programs.”

A look at the Canada Council for the Arts’ most recent funding overview reveals that current spending—as anyone familiar with Canada’s cultural sector intuitively knows—is far from equitable. In their 2018/2019 reporting year, the organization spent less per capita on Albertans than they did on the citizens of any other province or territory, not even a third of what was spent on Quebeckers.

Could this have anything to do with the Canada Council’s governance?
Is it possible that having Quebeckers in the roles of CEO, Director, Chair, and Vice Chair—every single senior position—has any impact on funding decisions? Perhaps. Or, as Cosh supposes, to ask such a question is merely to display the “unnatural argot of victimhood” that has come to infect so many Albertans. Whatever the case may be, it is disparities such as this that make the untold billions in transfer payments so difficult for Albertans to send off to Ottawa.

Would it be reasonable for Albertans to demand from their federal leaders some sort of minimum funding amount, or would doing so constitute a brash attack on national unity?

Many have been quick to mock the Buffalo Declaration and gaslight its signatories, but the fact remains that there are clear inequities in the way mother Canada treats her children. Some of these inequities are big, others are small. Some are squishy and a matter of interprovincial contention; others (like arts funding) can be ascertained quite clearly.


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