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Arts community puts candidates to the test

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ON four federal party platforms, the same broad vision: Canada's future looks mightily creative.

The only question is how the next government will pay to keep Canada's artistic heart ticking.

On that end, parties' platforms came under the microscope Wednesday, when four federal candidates took the stage at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People for Arts Vote Winnipeg's election forum. The candidates sketched out platforms for arts funding in Canada -- and faced a question-firing squad from almost 200 artists and arts fans.

While all candidates expressed effusive support for Canada's arts scene, the devil was in the details.

Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge announced his party would boost the stability of arts funding via multi-year funding commitments and create a children's arts and culture tax credit, similar to the children's fitness credit the Tories enacted in 2006. "We believe that art begins in the home," he said.

But some of Bruinooge's comments drew barbs from other candidates. Liberal MP Anita Neville took issue with the Tory plan to create a $25-million award for international arts. The money should go toward Canadian artists, she said -- and announced Liberal hopes to double funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, bringing its funding to $360 million.

She called the Tories to task for cutting a number of arts programs, including Trade Routes, a $9-million program that helped boost exports of Canadian film and music. The Liberals would bring the programs back. "These were a devastating loss for Canada and Canadian artists," she said.

NDP MP Pat Martin criticized the Toriest for making the Canadian Museum for Human Rights go "cap in hand" to the federal government to cover funding overruns, while the feds fully covered cost increases at a national Ottawa museum.

"We need a strong voice at the cabinet table to make sure Manitoba gets its share," he said. "We're arguing not just for the arts community, but for this region."

Martin earned the biggest buzz for his personal passion. He said he hopes to introduce a bill to make the first $50,000 of earnings from artistic work tax-free, he said.

Despite the tension, the debate turned out to be a platform for platitudes. "I was disappointed when the candidates said, 'I agree with that person,' " said singer Amber Epp. "I wanted to hear more specific things.You can't have Canada without culture."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2011 A6

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