THE ARTS

Culture’s captain charts a course

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 12 1984
THE ARTS

Culture’s captain charts a course

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 12 1984

Culture’s captain charts a course

THE ARTS

Anthony Wilson-Smith

When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney named Marcel Masse as communications minister last September, the first reaction of most members of the Canadian arts commu-

nity was, “Marcel who?” For months insiders had expected the powerful portfolio, which controls the CBC, the National Film Board (NFB), the Canada Council and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to go to David Crombie, the former Conservative opposition culture critic. Instead, Mulroney chose Masse, a 48-year-old former Quebec provincial cabinet minister. Now, as Masse prepares to lay down the outlines of the Tories’ communications policy for the next four years, there is increasing concern among some observers over the direction in which the minister is likely to move. Amid widespread reports last week about the depth of impending budget cuts in the department, former Canada Council chairman Mavor Moore declared, “Right now, we are living in very, very worrisome times.”

Most of the concern centres on Masse’s plans for funding cutbacks and the apparent direction of his arts grant policies. So far, he has made only general public

statements about the need for

budget cuts and changes in “govern-

ment advisers as well as government policy.” But privately, spokesmen for affected bodies say they fear that the cuts may be severe. The biggest loser may be the CBC, whose executives say they have been told that the cabinet might cut their $896-million annual grant by as much as $150 million. As well, similar cutbacks, totalling between 10 and 15 per pent of overall budget, are anticipated by both the NFB and the Canada Council. Government sources also indicate that Masse is planning to replace senior arts officials, including Canada Council director Timothy Porteous and CBC president Pierre Juneau, who are both widely respected but identified as Liberals.

Concern over the reductions is particularly acute at the Canada Council, the main instrument through which government gives what has been tradition-

ally known as its “arm’s length” support to the operations of theatres, dance troupes, publishers and visual artists. A replacement for the independent-minded Porteous could be announced as early as this week. Moore said that if Masse also moves, as some believe he will, to

increase direct funding for the arts groups through his own ministry instead of through the council, “It would take away from one of the cornerstones of artistic funding. And any time politicians get involved, it has historically been disastrous.”

The council’s fears arise, in part, from a series of commitments Masse recently made in Quebec. During a meeting on Sept. 25 with two Quebec cabinet ministers, he pledged that the communications department will give an unspecified amount of money directly to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which had not even formally requested the money. As well, Masse, in conjunction with the Quebec government, has commissioned a study on the feasibility of establishing a second French-language private TV network in Quebec.

Those gestures have raised suspicions in some cultural circles that Masse, who

served as education and intergovernmental affairs minister in Quebec’s Union Nationale government in the 1960s and who was a staunch provincial nationalist, may use his present office to make political gains in his home province. Said Vancouver arts critic Max

Wyman: “There is already a feeling here that, yet again, the West may find itself forgotten in favor of the central provinces.” Masse is functionally bilingual but he prefers to read all ministry documents in French and he is far more comfortable in French than in English. Because of that, aides insist, he is occasionally misunderstood—as in a recent CBC English radio interview in which he appeared to suggest that controversies over political involvement in arts funding were more of an “anglophone concern.” Senior members of the PQ also regard Masse as a likely choice for provincial Conservative leader if the federal Tories rejuvenate the provincial party. Said Quebec Tory MP Marcel Danis, who has known Masse since their days in the Union Nationale: “Marcel is extremely bright and charming, and extremely ambitious.”

Masse himself was unavailable for interviews despite repeated requests from Maclean ’s. And Mulroney has ordered government aides not to speak to the press directly, but senior communications department offi-

cials said privately that many of the current concerns about Masse are unfounded. Said one adviser: “It is ridiculous. Everyone is drawing in their wagons to defend themselves before the guy has even done anything publicly.”

Still, wherever Masse decides to make his inevitable cuts, he is likely to encounter formidable opposition. The more than 240,000 people employed in arts-related occupations make the field the largest among manufacturers in the country. Because that figure also includes the communications field, they are also potentially one of the most vocal lobby groups. One aide to Masse added: “Everybody wants the government to cut, cut, cut—until it affects them directly. And the bigger the group, the louder the holler.” With the reality of almost-certain budget cuts lying ahead, the current whisper of concern may become shouts of protest.^