Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an actor. When I was little, I fantasized about giving my Oscar speech and being interviewed as a famous Hollywood actress. That’s what I thought it was all about.

In my adolescence, much of that changed. Instead of buying celebrity magazines, I would spend my allowance going downtown to see the ‘Pay What You Can’ matinees playing at small Toronto theatres. It was the 90s, and I was that wide-eyed teenager sitting in the dark theatre watching real industry leaders (playwrights, actors, and directors) develop their craft. At a young age, I saw the exemplary art being created by Canadians and I wanted to be part of it.

During my undergrad (a B.F.A. in Acting), I once listened to an interview with actor Gordon Pinsent and, upon being asked why he had chosen primarily to build a career in Canada, he said he wanted to work where he wanted to live. That stuck with me. It made a career in the Canadian arts feel possible.

And now, here we are, ten years later. And the Canadian arts and culture that defines my livelihood seems ever on the chopping block.

We are coming up to an election this month, and there’s been a flood of information, social media posts and opinion polls to sway Canadian voters. I am only a single voice, but I am desperately hoping that many Canadians feel the way I do and want to see drastic changes to our hemorrhaging funding of the arts and culture sector.

As demonstrated by the practices of our current government, there is no value in art. The CBC, the Indie Canadian films featured at TIFF, the Polaris winners, Margaret Atwood, the Governor General award recipients, Don Cherry and Hockey Night In Canada – the actual artists and institutions that strive to build Canada as a cultural Mecca – have no perceived value in the eyes of the Harper government, and they make that known through their extreme cuts and caps to arts funding nationwide. It seems that the mission of this government is to make Canadian culture extinct. The artistic landscape that was once giving rise to our greatest cultural leaders and inspired young artists is being ravaged beyond recognition.

According to the Canada Arts Coalition 2014 Budget Analysis, while the focus of the Conservatives’ 2014 Budget was on job creation and growth, no plans for this were shown in the arts and culture sector. In fact, the Canadian Heritage Portfolio sustained close to $200 million in permanent cuts between 2012-13 and 2014-15, with the CBC taking the brunt with $115 million in cuts; the department of Canadian Heritage saw $46.2 million in cuts, and the National Film Board, Telefilm, and the Library and Archives of Canada received major reductions in funding as well.

What do these numbers actually mean? It was these cuts that forced the CBC to slash their workforce, made it impossible for them to compete for the NHL rights and forced cancellations to original television and radio programming. Now these cuts are pushing the CBC to give up the lease on their Toronto office property, rendering our national broadcasting corporation homeless. And that’s just one example. The trickle down effect is not only job loss, but loss of innovation and growth within the sector. Canadian content is not only harder to make but is virtually impossible to distribute and thus our country can no longer compete internationally. Hence our television, films, music, visual art and literature is easily replaced by the American market. Goodbye Canadian culture. Hello Big Bang Theory reruns.

Despite his poor John Lennon crooning, Prime Minister Harper has maintained his disdain of the arts since being quoted by Toronto Star in September of 2008: “Ordinary people don’t care about arts funding.”

As a Canadian artist, I admit I am biased; however, I also take particular umbrage that as an artist, my contemporaries and I are not considered “ordinary people.” We fall out of legitimacy with the current government because our careers are deemed illegitimate, unnecessary, worthless or, as the PM went on to say in that 2008 public address, “a niche issue.”

Here are the facts:

  • The arts sector comprises 140,000 people, and as a whole encompasses 609,000 people (or 3.3.% of the Canadian workforce); Canadian banks only employ 257,000 people.
  • Economic contribution of the cultural sector is $46 billion annually or 3.8% of the total GDP; indirect economic contribution of the cultural sector is $84.6 billion or 7.4 % of the GDP.
  • In 2007, the arts and culture sector produced $25 billion in taxes, which funded all three levels of government, a number three times higher than the initial government spending on the sector as a whole.
  • In 2010, 10 million Canadians (over one third of the population) visited an art gallery; nearly half of all Canadians (47.8% or 13.4 million) visited a museum; 60.4% of the Canadian population attended at least one theatre, popular music, or classical music performance and nearly one half (47.9%) attended a cultural festival or other performing arts events.

As the facts show, the arts and culture sector is hardly “niche.” And despite early government cuts, it was able to significantly contribute to funding which the government deemed unworthy of maintaining. The arts and culture sector cannot continue in this way. After nearly a decade of government pillaging, this sector is on its last legs and is desperate to see change on a federal level. Like many other sectors, arts and culture needs a significant investment in order to facilitate growth and innovation, and to compete at home and in international markets.

And, contrary to the short-sighted views of Stephen Harper, this is more than a “niche issue,” as the reach of arts and culture is into the daily lives of every Canadian who wants to watch sport programming, or go to free outdoor concerts, music festivals, book signings, live theatre, the museum, cultural heritage centres, galleries, the opera, the ballet, or have subsidized music lessons for children, creative outreach programs for at-risk youth, and otherwise take advantage of the myriad of initiatives that contribute to overall Canadian culture.

I, like Gordon Pinsent, want to work where I want to live. Canada is filled with exemplary artists. Art is what makes a culture rich, and if the Harper government is allowed to continue slashing through this sector to meet a bottom line, he will surely impoverish this country.