Oct 30, 2008
Here's a note my friend Thom Marriott imported from his own, very-fine blog, to Facebook. It's worth a read (or two):
In a major cabinet shuffle this morning, Stephen Harper announced sweeping changes to his inner circle and introduced many new faces to some very important positions. The major news is undoubtedly the inclusion of 10 women, representing 26% of the cabinet seats. This is a long overdue move by any sitting government, and the Conservatives should be lauded for this move in the right direction toward equality in parliament. However, I have concerned myself with one specific move - one which actually demotes a woman from a major to minor portfolio.
Josee Verner, MP from Louis-Saint-Laurent, was demoted this morning from her post as Minister of Canadian Heritage, Minister on the Status of Women and Minister responsible for Official Languages to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for la Francophonie (two minor cabinet posts). This is a fantastic move on the part of the government. Ms. Verner has been an embarrassment in her post of Heritage minister, cutting programs without the ability to defend those cuts and failing to fight for her portfolio and its programs with the same verve that is expected of other ministers in their positions in Industry, Environment or Finance. I will grant that she was overburdened by leading three portfolios, but that simply emphasizes the lack of commitment to arts and culture by this Conservative government. Stephen Harper and Josee Verner have played that portfolio to their grassroots supporters, following the pro-free-market stance of Margaret Thatcher’s Tories in England. However, the English Conservatives have not held power in England since the retirement of Thatcher, and Ed Vaizey, the shadow cultural minister for the Brit Tories, is now pushing for more government funding of the arts, exclaiming that politics has no place in arts funding.
“Government money is pump-priming money,” he says. “Success breeds success. The irony is, if you double the grant to an arts body, you probably end up doubling the amount of private giving to it as well, because people say, ‘I want to invest in something that has the backing of the government.’”
Today, Mr. Harper made a change to the landscape of arts in politics. James Moore, the youngest cabinet minister (he’s 32), has been named to the Heritage post and I must admit that it concerns me. Mr. Moore holds college diplomas in economics and business administration and a university degree in political science. He was first elected an MP at 24, quickly becoming Deputy Foreign Affairs Critic, Deputy National Revenue Critic, Senior Transport Critic, and Vice-Chair of the Commons Transport Committee. After re-election in 2004, Mr. Moore served as Official Opposition Transportation Critic, as well as Amateur Sport Critic in Harper’s shadow cabinet. After the Conservatives took power in 2006, James Moore was appointed to Parliamentary Secretary to both the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and the Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics. By the time the most recent election rolled around, James had again shifted - this time to Secretary of State for the 2010 Olympics.
James Moore is obviously a hard worker and well liked within the Conservative Party. In his first term, he was named “the best up-and-coming MP” four years in a row by fellow MPs and staffers. His resume is impressive and his education is extensive. However, where are the qualifications to understand the portfolio that he has just been handed? What is his knowledge of the arts industry and its needs? In this time of uncertain economics, do we really have time to wait while a former transport critic learns the ropes of an underfunded portfolio? Will this MP take the time to fight for the support that is so desperately needed in the arts and culture industry, or is he already looking to the next rung on the ladder?
A change in leadership at Heritage Canada is a good thing, and I hope that James Moore is the right person for the job. If so, I leave him with this advice...
Listen to the artists that strive to eke out an existence with meaning; with purpose.
Listen to the songs, the poems, and the plays that attempt to define our identity as a nation.
Listen to the heartbeat of a nation longing for a culture to call our own.
Listen to us and our cultural industry will thrive and be the envy of the world.
So much is possible from the office you now occupy, Mr. Moore. All you have to do is listen.