Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been dismissive of the "arts community" and its complaints about cuts his government has made to some arts-grant programs. Now the reaction to this issue, especially in Quebec, seems to have become a deadweight on his campaign in this province.
Professional artists are a little like pro athletes: Only the top stars make big money; the rest grub along on grants, part-time jobs and occasional - often, very occasional - income from what they love to do. But what artists lack in money, they make up for in creativity.
So it's interesting that Quebec artists and performers, both the great and not-so-great, have used their talents to launch a kind of virtual protest demonstration on the web. Created by director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, actor and film-maker Émile Proulx-Cloutier and web maven Mélanie Charbonneau, the campaign is both simple and affective.
To check it out, go to www.unissonsnosvoix.ca and click on any of the dozens of faces that appear to hear a calm but passionate denunciation of Harper's policies. And while it was the grant cuts that first roused the arts community, the participants in this project roast the Conservatives for their stand on everything from the Afghanistan war and the environment to youth crime and social justice.
And it's not a closed shop. Anyone who wants the Tories out and and has access to a Webcam can apply to add their voice to the protest. Whatever you might think of artists' cause - and frankly, their reaction to a $45-million cut in a $4-billion arts budget is more than a little exaggerated - you have to applaud them for the way they've opened the political debate and given an outlet to so many voices. We need more initiatives like this, on all sides.
But we wonder if even the slight cost of maintaining the website doesn't violate the ceiling the previous Liberal government imposed on third-party election spending. That law, unfortunately upheld by the Supreme Court, continues to limit debate in Canada in a manner that not only violates free speech, but is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the cyber age.