Wednesday 6 November 1991

Ontario Arts Council


Acting Chair: Drainville, Dennis (Victoria-Haliburton NDP)

Vice-Chair: Bisson, Gilles (Cochrane South NDP)

Carter, Jenny (Peterborough NDP)

Curling, Alvin (Scarborough North L)

Eves, Ernie L. (Parry Sound PC)

Harnick, Charles (Willowdale PC)

Harrington, Margaret H. (Niagara Falls NDP)

Malkowski, Gary (York East NDP)

Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex NDP)

Offer, Steven (Mississauga North L)

O'Neill, Yvonne (Ottawa-Rideau L)

Winninger, David (London South NDP)

Clerk: Brown, Harold

Staff: Kaye, Philip, Research Officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1600 in room 151.


The Chair: I call the Ontario Arts Council, Nalini Stewart. I am very glad to have you before us. First, I wonder if you could introduce the people who are with you. Second, we have about half an hour of time. If we could have perhaps 15 minutes for a presentation and 15 minutes for questions, that would work quite well.

Ms Stewart: I will start with introducing Yolande Grisé, the chair-elect of the Ontario Arts Council; Norm Walford, the executive director, and Gwenlyn Setterfield, director of developmental ventures.

Thank you so much for inviting us to be here today. I would like to start by commending the select committee on Ontario in Confederation for being so prompt with its report of March 1991. I am really delighted that you are showing leadership in identifying and promoting a national vision for Canada. As somebody of Indian origin living in Canada, I really cannot think of anything that is more important at this time, along with our economy.

We have read your report carefully. In terms of the content and feeling of the report, I feel very much at home with it, because that is very much how we feel at the Ontario Arts Council. I am very pleased that you have given us an opportunity to come here.

I have been with the Ontario Arts Council for almost six years. Yolande will be taking over from me in a few weeks. I have always thought of the Ontario Arts Council as a mini-Canada or mini-Ontario. There is a 12-person volunteer board and a small staff of lwss than 80 people, but within our organization we have been dealing with all the problems you are dealing with in your report today.

For example, we have had a Franco-Ontarian office in our organization for about 20 years now. We have special programs for peoples of the first nations community. In the last six years -- it really started before I came, but certainly in my time there we have focused on how to bring into the Ontario Arts Council all the different cultural voices that make up Ontario today. So we have looked at fairness and excellence in all our programs. We reach over 1,000 organizations all over Ontario, from north to south and east to west, and we give grants to over 2,000 individual artists.

I say all this to show you that we are doing in our organization what you are looking at. We have been looking at it in different ways for over 20 years for Franco-Ontarians, almost 20 years for first nations programs and maybe the last 10 years for cultural diversity programs.

We have also been monitoring the constitutional debate since Meech Lake and we have been very concerned about the unclear messages that have been coming out about federal funding for culture and how it is going to be allocated.

Late last spring, we assigned Gwenlyn Setterfield to start gathering information about devolution. We invited the board of the Canada Council to come and speak to our board and staff in September, to get its perspective. Our clients, who are the artists and arts organizations of Ontario, are deeply affected every time the Canada Council is either straight-lined or has a cutback. I might add that over 50% of the artists of Canada live in Ontario, whether they are writers, film makers, painters or musicians.

Norm and Gwen recently went to a concert in Ottawa where they talked with provincial representatives of arts councils in different provinces and with representatives from the Canada Council. They have also been working with provincial and national art service organizations. After getting input from all these groups, our board, at its meeting a week ago, passed the statement you have in your package. I would like to just highlight a few of the areas and then we can answer questions.

First, we would like to say that we reaffirm absolutely our commitment to the principle of arm's-length funding in the cultural sector, in order to allow artists a strong voice independent of political pressure. We do have three areas of concern. This is the statement I am referring to, right at the top of your package. It is called The Ontario Arts Council Position on Federal Constitutional Proposals.

We are concerned about the lack of definitional clarity as to the federal government's ultimate role and responsibility in cultural matters in a revamped constitutional framework. We were not sure how the federal government is to maintain responsibility over existing Canadian institutions while at the same time inviting provinces to negotiate cultural and other agreements.

The next thing is the call of the federal government to negotiate cultural agreements with each province. We talked a lot about bilateral negotiations at our board level. Bilateral negotiations could lead to a fragmented cultural sector. We know the reality of Canada, because our organization has been dealing with the reality of Canada, so we do not seek that everybody should be exactly the same and we are not looking for a homogeneous culture.

Through our own programs and policies we recognize the unique cultural needs of francophones and native peoples. Similarly, we believe it is possible within a new constitutional framework to recognize the distinct cultural aspirations of the province of Quebec and the native peoples of Canada while retaining a strong national cultural identity. We are worried about the effects of bilateral cultural agreements on the current multilevel system of arts funding.

A devolution of federal support to the provincial level goes counter to the principle of shared funding. The latter has served the needs of Canada's artists well. Shared funding should instead be strengthened to ensure access by all Canadians to participation in Canada's artistic life.

In your report you mention national institutions. We feel strongly that national institutions such as the Canada Council, CBC, Telefilm or the National Film Board are necessary to have a national vision.

We also feel strongly that the artist's voice must be heard in this present debate over Canada and we urge to you include that voice whenever you can.

Norm, would you like to add something?

Mr Walford: I think our chair has said most of what I would say, except to emphasize that in all of this dealing on the cultural front, Ontario has -- as I suspect it does in many other areas, but in this one in particular -- a very prominent role because of the disproportionate weighting of artists and arts organizations of a national character resident in this province. If we are counting gains and losses over the constitutional process, this is one area where we should be very careful, because I think Ontario itself will stand to lose if there is any kind of agreement which does not recognize that fact.

Ms Stewart: Gwen, would you like to add something?

Ms Setterfield: No, I think I would just like to hear any questions from the committee members.

Ms Stewart: Yolande?

Mme Grisé: : Oui, j'aimerais ajouter, par intérim, à ce que notre présidente actuelle vient de dire : que notre pays souffre en ce moment d'un manque d'identification culturelle très fort. C'est peut-être une des raisons pour lesquelles de l'ouest à l'est, du nord au sud du pays, on ne sent pas cette identité canadienne de la même façon.

Aussi, le point que j'aimerais ajouter c'est de comprendre que, par ces temps de récession économique très difficiles, il me semble que le Canada devrait accorder une large place aux artistes dans ce débat constitutionnel pour trois raisons :

La première, c'est que les artistes ont l'habitude de faire face à la récession tous les jours de leur vie, et ils ont sans doute des moyens à nous apprendre comment trouver de nouvelles méthodes pour vivre de façon différente dans ce pays.

La deuxième raison, c'est que les artistes sont des créateurs ; ils ont un sens de la créativité dont nous avons besoin actuellement pour faire face aux enjeux, à l'excellence, au défi international qui se pose à notre pays.

Enfin, la troisième raison pour laquelle nous devons faire une large place aux artistes dans ce pays, c'est que les artistes sont une source d'énergie dont nous avons besoin pour nous renouveler, et en particulier dans le domaine de la constitution.

C'est un peu ce que je voulais faire entendre à votre commission, comme présidente désignée du Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario. Je vous remercie de votre attention.


M. Bisson : Vous avez parlé de l'importance de faire sûr que nos artistes sont représentés dans le débat constitutionnel. Qu'avez-vous à dire à ceux dans la société qui disent : «Écoute, la table est seulement si grande. On ne peut pas mettre tous autour ; on ne peut pas y mettre tous les représentants de toutes les communautés de notre pays.» Comment est-ce que vous répondez à ça?

Mme Grise : Je pense que les artistes sont le fer de lance de l'identité culturelle d'un pays. Bien sûr je suis d'accord avec vous qu'il y a bien des groupes qui veulent faire entendre leurs intérêts. Mais les artistes dans une société ont un rôle particulier, une espèce de rôle d'éclaireur, ce qui n'est pas toujours le cas de tout le monde, bien entendu. C'est à ce titre-là, je crois, que nous devons faire une place spéciale à ce que les artistes ont à nous dire.

Je crois que nous sommes un pays très jeune, et nous n'avons peut-être pas une compréhension très claire et très grande du rôle que doivent jouer les artistes dans un pays. Quand tout disparaît, si on regarde les siècles passés, ce qui reste ce sont les oeuvres des artistes qui nous font comprendre un peu ce qu'est notre humanité. Alors, c'est dans ce sens-là, je crois, que les artistes ont un rôle spécial à jouer dans la question constitutionnelle au pays.

M. Bisson : Oui, je suis complètement d'accord avec vous. Un pays est vu à travers son art, il n'y a pas question. Mais ce que je voulais savoir c'est comment on s'accommode à tous les groupes.

La table est seulement si grande pour mettre divers groupes autour de la table, pour être capable d'entrer en discussion de la constitution. De quelles sortes d'outils aurais-je besoin comme politicien pour agrandir la table?

Mme Grisé : D'abord, M. Bisson, ce que nous avons acquis ici aujourd'hui est extraordinaire. C'est déjà la preuve que l'on est à l'écoute des artistes. Je crois que vous êtes sur la bonne voie, et je vous encourage à continuer.

M. Bisson : Merci.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: You may not want to answer this. I certainly have kept in very close touch with your work. I admire it and I know it is not an easy job. I know every judgement is made with difficulty and sensitivity. I really do believe that. I always would like more money to come to eastern Ontario, but that is not always the case. I am wondering if you would risk commenting on the Arpin report from Quebec.

Mme Grisé : Je pense que c'est une question à laquelle il serait prématuré de répondre immédiatement, mais je pourrais peut-être y répondre d'une autre façon, d'une façon non pas détournée mais que je connais davantage.

Le ministre de la Culture et des Communications a mis sur pied, au mois d'avril, un groupe de travail afin de préparer pour l'Ontario, et pour les francophones de l'Ontario en particulier, une politique culturelle qui a dû regarder de très près ce qui se faisait au Québec dans ce domaine de politique culturelle.

Bien entendu, on a procédé de façon différente, puisque le gouvernement de l'Ontario a commencé par consulter la base avant d'arriver à établir cette politique, alors qu'au Québec on s'est d'abord adressé à des experts, à un niveau plus élevé, et ça a donné le rapport Arpin. Maintenant il y a une façon différente de procéder : on retourne à la base et là il y a plusieurs questions qui sont débattues, dont le rapatriement, comme vous le savez tous, des pouvoirs en matières culturelles au Québec d'une part, et la mainmise de l'état sur la culture et les arts d'autre part.

Je crois que, en ce moment, si vous suivez un peu ce qui se passe dans les journaux, tout le monde n'est pas d'accord sur cette façon de procéder. Je crois qu'à cet égard, ça pourrait être ma réponse à votre question. Pour ma part, j'aimerais vous informer que le rapport va être rendu public, déposé en Chambre, demain à 13 h 30, alors vous aurez l'occasion de prendre connaissance de cela.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Does the Ontario Arts Council have many national affiliations? Do you meet regularly with other provinces that do similar things? I realize you are the largest, Quebec likely being the closest.

Ms Stewart: Maybe I will let Norm answer that.

Mr Walford: That is a very timely question in that we have just concluded a conference with all the other arm's-length arts councils.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Each province has one?

Mr Walford: No, in Canada there are six of us, including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The other provinces do not have provincial arts councils. We have structured our meetings so that the arm's-length agencies have gotten together and discussed a common position on the Constitution, which we will be sending out over the wire in the next couple of days, very similar to what you have in front of you but phrased to reflect the six arts councils.

We also meet quite regularly with Canada Council and we have structured meetings, one a month ago, which include representatives of ministries where there are no arts councils. With the unfortunate exception of Quebec, the last meeting had every province, including the territories, represented. It was quite an interesting and fruitful discussion.

Ms Stewart: We also meet with people outside Canada -- from Britain and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr Offer: Thank you for your presentation. One of the areas in the federal proposal deals with the question of the distinct society, and one aspect or element of that distinct society, Quebec, deals with its culture. Do you support the concept of the distinct society of Quebec in its entirety?

Ms Stewart: In its entirety? It is in our brief: "We believe it is possible to recognize the distinct cultural aspirations of the province of Quebec and the native peoples of Canada while retaining a strong national cultural identity."

Mr Offer: I take that to mean, and correct me if I take it the wrong way, that you do support the concept of a distinct society in terms of the cultural element it contains.

Ms Stewart: Yes.

Mr Offer: Is it improper for me to assume, because you have been specific, that you have excluded the other aspects of the distinct society?

Ms Stewart: Our job is to stick to the cultural. Obviously we believe in a quality of life and the kind of Canada we want to live in. The wording for this was discussed in great detail at our board level. Because we had been dealing with the Franco-Ontarian question for over 20 years, there was agreement around our organization for supporting the distinct cultural aspirations of Quebec, but it really is not our business to go into things unrelated to culture. We are focusing on just the cultural aspect.

Mr Walford: I think it is fair to say, though, that the articulation of distinctness probably comes through in culture more than in any other field, and so what we have tried to do is say that homogeneity of any kind is not one of the things we would suggest. That is partly in answer to the question of whether we can manage with an asymmetrical country, in terms of the agreements.

We recognize that Quebec has certain aspirations within Confederation and that they should be realizable. The question of how we phrase it in terms of distinctness is probably the key here. I think that in the last round of negotiations we did not have a clear enough idea of what that meant. Probably, if it were to be articulated, we would find that the cultural aspects of the francophone population in Quebec are at the essence of this, that this is really what we are talking about. Indeed, our position is that this should be allowed.


Ms Harrington: I do not have a clearly defined question, but I do want to tell you that as government members we had a discussion a couple of weeks ago with the Minister of Culture and Communications about what is Canadian culture. It was in response to some of the federal proposals. I want to get a little more feedback from you on your concerns with regard to the federal proposal. This is your first area of concern: "a lack of definitional clarity as to the federal government's ultimate role and responsibility in cultural matters." We are talking about funding here, are we not?

Mr Walford: I certainly would not want to limit it to funding. Our concern is about what kind of fabric we will have nationally with whatever transpires between the federal government and the provinces. There was a fear clearly expressed at the meeting I was referring to earlier that if the provinces start to negotiate individually with the federal government on cultural matters -- they do now in certain areas -- everybody will want to negotiate and that, by some form of erosion, culture will indeed become almost exclusively a provincial responsibility. From where we sit, the sense of our sharing as a nation each other's cultural products, each other's ideas, all the things that flow from culture that define us as a nation will somehow or other break down a bit, so we are very concerned about what is on the table here in the sense that we understand the national institutions are not.

As our chair pointed out in her opening remarks, one of the greatest concerns -- this is where the funding issue does become pertinent -- is that by the process of starving some of these institutions slowly, the devolution that everybody is talking about is in fact happening, because it comes back to us to try to fill the gap each time. I think that does make the national presence weaker. There are different forms of devolution, and this is just one of them, but I think the fear of negotiating a position on things that are not negotiable now or even in the Constitution now with each province will lead to that sort of slow erosion.

The other thing is that with other provinces the fear was also expressed that if it becomes a negotiation between governments there is no assurance that the artists of the country are going to be the beneficiaries. The responsibility may be transferred and the money may go elsewhere. I think that is a very legitimate concern.

Ms Stewart: The arm's-length question too, because right now all these agencies are set up through an arm's-length system. There is no guarantee that the money will come through at arm's length.

Ms Setterfield: On the question of our phrase "definitional clarity," the government's paper, in the three paragraphs that dealt with culture, was very unclear about what it means in terms of the negotiations with the provinces. On the one hand, they declare that they wish to maintain responsibility for the major institutions, the federal institutions, and they name a few of them, but then they go on to talk about these bilateral negotiations with the provinces and are not clear about whether in fact the regional share of the funding from the Canada Council, for example, is really up for grabs in those bilateral negotiations. In other words, the paper itself is very unclear about what they mean about what actually you would go and negotiate as a province. That is one point of definitional clarity.

The other thing, and it is not talked about in the constitutional paper, is that the arts sector is very worried about the issue of free trade and whether culture will be on the table in the trilateral agreements with Mexico and United States. This is something about which the arts community and the culture sector have felt very strongly for a very long time, since the free trade debates began with the United States. It is this issue of mushy language and at the end of the day we are not sure really what we are going to be talking about.

Ms Harrington: This is what we were concerned about, so I just want to rephrase: You do believe the federal level should continue to be involved in a funding way.

Ms Stewart: Absolutely.

Ms Setterfield: Yes, we do. We think it is possible to strengthen those national institutions which are talked about in the federal paper while at the same time recognizing that there are other areas that express the distinct cultural aspirations of the province of Quebec and the people of the first nations. We are certainly concerned about the fact that institutions such as the Canada Council can have a strong regional presence and provide good access across the country to good cultural programs for everybody only if they have sufficient funding, so it is very difficult to pull apart the issue of the Constitution and the funding. Although I know it has been expressed in Ottawa that we should try to do so, you always come down to money, do you not?

Ms Stewart: In his comments, Mr Beatty keeps saying that the national institutions will stay the way they are and that the negotiable part is the programs in his department, but as Gwen said, it is never very clear. Even though he is making these public statements, we have not had in writing that they will keep supporting the national institutions and keep adding to them. In a way, if you straight-line the national institutions, which they have been doing for many years, they are already cut by the standards of 10 years ago.

Mr Winninger: Given that artists tend to be among the most poorly paid sectors of employees --

Ms Stewart: We have a paper on that too in our package.

Mr Winninger: Yes, I noticed that. I wondered what might be your views on the social charter that is being debated right now, as many of your constituents in the arts community would probably value having some rights, such as housing, health care, education and a job, vouchsafed to them under this kind of charter.

Ms Stewart: I will answer, but I am answering for myself, not for my organization, because we have not really dealt with this. I remember talking to political friends many years ago and saying that maybe we should have a minimum wage that everybody in Canada would get, because most artists in this country get below the minimum wage. If everybody got $20,000, every artist would have $20,000. I was told, for a whole variety of reasons, why this was not a workable situation.

I know some visual artists who sell two or three paintings a year, who are suddenly taxed one year when they have sold three paintings and then, if they have not sold anything, are not taxed. I think how artists are taxed on the books they write and the paintings they paint is not fair. I think we should give people who are professional artists some kind of income but I am not sure how to do it.

Mr Walford: We have been working with the Ministry of Culture and Communications on Ontario's version of the status-of-the-artist legislation, with which we are in total agreement. It is of course a very complex subject and there are many aspects to it. I have just received on my desk the latest working papers, which are about three inches thick. We are certainly very much in support of both the federal and the provincial initiatives in that regard, which I think will go some way. It is not quite the same thing as the social charter, but it does define certain rights and privileges for the artists specifically. We are very much in favour of that, but we have not in fact taken a position on the social charter at this point in time.

Ms Stewart: Because it is such a complex subject. How do you define housing? How much housing is enough housing? Maybe the next time we come to see you we will have something.

Ms Setterfield: Can I answer as a private citizen? As I work for an agency that is a very democratic one, I think all my bosses here will let me answer as a private citizen. I do support the notion of the social charter and within it things like the status-of-the-artist legislation which could be rolled into it.

Ms Stewart: If there is a social charter, it should include culture. Although we have had discussions about this, that maybe it is not the right thing, I know the Premier wants a social charter. If it is going to have five or six elements in it, culture should be part of that.

Mr Winninger: What should be part of it?

Ms Stewart: Culture, the artists of Ontario or the artistic community. I am not sure what the right word is, but there should be some, because if you are looking at quality of life and what makes life better in Canada, I think that should be part of it. We have not got our wording right yet.

The Chair: I want to thank the members of the Ontario Arts Council for coming before the select committee today. We have appreciated your input today and I hope you will follow us as we continue to do our work. Hopefully we will be out with the final report some time in February.

Ms Stewart: Thank you very much. If you need any further information, Gwen is the expert who is collecting information. We do not have all the statistics, but if you need information on the arts, that is one of the reasons we came here today. In half an hour we cannot tell you very much, but if you need anything further, we are here.

The Chair: I understand. Thank you very much. I appreciate the offer.

I would like to now adjourn the meeting for today.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Can we just ask a few more questions before we do that?

The Chair: About the travel?

Mrs Y. O'Neill: No, just about the rest of the meetings. You could cut off the TV, if you like.

The Chair: Yes, I think we will adjourn our meeting at this point and meet in our respective places tomorrow, in Fredericton and Halifax.

The committee adjourned at 1631.