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The federal election: voting for our work

This federal election, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, presents a challenge for media workers. Our professional instincts are to keep our heads down during political campaigns. However, this time the government seeking re-election has made a campaign issue of media and culture by announcing big cuts to arts funding in the month leading up to the election call.

Why do the arts cuts matter so much? It’s about the way the cuts were done, and the reason for them, as much as it is about the actual cuts. The government’s August announcement involved targeting two of our media colleagues, Avi Lewis and Gwynne Dyer, dismissing the value of their work. It appeared as a cynical attempt to appeal to a particular segment of the electorate. We can’t let cultural and media work be reduced to fodder for campaign tactics.

I believe we need to be active voters in this election. We need to ask clear questions of our own candidates ? at the door, at the coffee shop, at all-candidates’ meetings ? and make sure they know we are listening to their answers … and to the answers their parties are giving.

What you need to know
The Guild does not endorse candidates or parties but advocates on issues affecting our work. As we did in 2004 and 2006, the Guild will send out an analysis to members of where the five major parties stand on media and cultural issues. We are working with ACTRA and the Campaign for Democratic Media on questionnaires for the parties. In the meantime, here are some facts to keep in mind:

? The recent arts funding cuts totaled $45 million and followed a “strategic review” that was done behind closed doors. It was money that had been approved in the 2008 budget. Arts funding is down as a percentage of the overall budget, although the Conservatives point out they are spending more on arts funding than the previous Liberal government.
? Local news has been in decline in Canada for nearly two decades. In 1999, under the former Liberal government, rules requiring broadcasters to provide local TV news were eliminated. Broadcasters such as Citytv and Global and newspapers such as Quebecor’s Sun chain, Canwest and Torstar have all recently eliminated newsroom jobs. In one of the most recent examples, Quebec TV network TQS got permission from the CRTC to drastically reduce local news despite public outrage. Heritage Minister Jos?e Verner was asked to step in and reverse the decision and chose to do nothing.
? The current government has taken an extremely heavy-handed approach with the parliamentary media, providing little or no access to cabinet ministers and giving itself more power in press gallery news conferences.
? After a steep budget cut by the former Liberal government in the mid-1990s, the CBC has been treading water with government allocations that do not keep pace with inflation, forcing increasing reliance on commercial revenue and denying the ability to improve radio service in under-served areas of the country. Most recently, despite an all-party report urging the government to sign a long-term funding agreement with CBC, the government chose to do nothing. Serious questions continue to linger about the Conservatives’ plans for CBC because of statements made, and never reversed, by Stephen Harper during the 2004 campaign about commercializing CBC-TV and Radio 2.
? The previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government have both explored opening up telecommunications companies to more foreign ownership. They have also mused about merging the legislation governing telecommunications and broadcasting, given that many integrated media companies now do both (ie. Rogers, Corus, Quebecor). This would open the door to foreign ownership of Canadian media and the gutting of Canadian content requirements.

What you can do
If you are getting involved in the election in any way as an individual, please read your relevant employer policies related to outside political activities. Clearly not all Guild members are in a position to be public or active during the election. In general, it’s best not to identify yourself with your employer when you’re participating publicly in a campaign. If you want to discuss this, please get in touch with us.

Here are some questions you could ask your local candidates ? at your door, at all-candidates’ meetings, in blogs and letters to the editor, etc:
– Do you support maintaining the rules that restrict foreign ownership of our media companies?
– Do you support a strong and independent CBC and, if elected, would your government increase CBC’s parliamentary allocation?
– Do you support new rules to ensure that broadcasters be required to produce and air local new

If you come across information about where your local candidates stand on media and cultural issues, please let us know. Please also get in touch if you are working with a candidate so that we can get you the most up-to-date information to share with the campaign on media and cultural issues.

I also urge you to visit the Canadian Labour Congress website and read up on the issues that the labour movement is putting forward during this campaign: http://www.canadianlabour.ca/en/election-2008 .

It is up to us to speak up about the importance of an independent, Canadian-owned media, strong public broadcasting and funding for artists and cultural workers.

If you have any questions or information, please get in touch with us by writing to info@cmg.ca or by calling 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.

Lise Lareau
National President

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