Like many of you, I’ve been on vacation for the past few weeks, and this week returned to an inbox overflowing with email and dozens of calls to return. How quickly things change! As I settle back in, I want to address some of the challenges facing the community - the cuts to the BC Arts Council, the uncertain future of the gaming funds, the HST - and let you know what the Alliance is doing.
I also want to encourage everyone to remain calm and respectful in their dealings with one another and our elected representatives. This is critical if we are to be effective advocates. Our goal should be to engage in constructive dialogue with government, not to threaten or panic before we know where we stand. It is easy to feel besieged these days, but it is more important than ever that we act rationally and wait until we have all the facts before taking action.
The BC Arts Council cuts. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone in the community for their overwhelming response to our call to action. A few weeks ago, representatives from the Alliance met with Minister Kevin Krueger and it was clear that the Government had heard our concerns loud and clear. Though no promises were made, the Minister wanted everyone to know that he has our best interests at heart and will be working to ensure that the arts are not “hung out to dry”.
We plan to set up a series of roundtables with the Minister so that he can hear from members of the community first hand, and we will keep you posted on our progress. It is not realistic to expect any changes for the September budget as it largely a “done deal”. We do, however, have an opportunity to influence the February budget and will be active this fall trying to achieve this.
Direct Access. This is perhaps the most challenging development faced by our community. What is most troubling is the way it was handled. No notifications were sent and no statements were released. Organizations that depend on gaming grants to deliver their programs and services simply did not receive the expected funds, and when they called the commission office to make inquiries they were told that the funds were frozen and that a review was underway.
It has been extremely difficult to obtain reliable information about the status of the review. However, we recently spoke with several senior representatives from that department and they have assured us that we will know the outcome of the review by the end of this month. It is more strategically sound to wait until we know the results of the review and the contents of the September budget. We strongly believe that this will be the best time to act, based on facts and not speculation.
I understand how nerve-wracking this situation is - the Alliance depends on gaming funds as well - but it is worth noting that we have important community allies in this fight. Sports and recreation, health organizations, and community services groups all depend on Direct Access funding. If the Province is restructuring this program, it will affect us all. This is an opportunity to develop relationships and alliances across sectors and now is a good time to begin.
HST. This is a new agreement that potentially affects our sector as well as others, like restaurants and hotels. Everything that is currently subject to GST will also now be subject to PST. The combined HST will be 12%. I understand that current rebates for GST will also apply to the HST. The HST seems to function just like the GST, but at a higher rate. We will be consulting with the Council of Tourism Associations, which has begun cross-sector discussions about HST implications about their findings and recommendations, and also with Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, as they have had to deal with this issue already in Ontario. We will keep you informed as we learn more, and we plan to provide tools for you to assess the impact of the HST on your organizations and practices. Once the impacts are understood, we can develop strategies to mitigate them and advocate for specific exemptions or rebates.
And, of course, today we received the surprising news that the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts is disbanding Tourism BC. It is difficult to know what to think of that decision, and we have to wonder why the Provincial government is choosing to change their tourism strategy six months before the Olympics.
The news is still very fresh; so, over the next few days, we will try to determine the impact on our community. For the moment, we would like to thank Ron Harris and the board for their hard work and commitment to making Greater Vancouver an important cultural destination.
Meanwhile, there are lots of changes happening here at the Alliance. Our new Director of Communications, Kevin Dale McKeown has just joined the staff, and we are already benefiting from his wealth of knowledge and expertise. We are also hiring a new Member Services Administrator to replace Florene Belmore, who has chosen to leave the Alliance to pursue other interests. We wish her the best of luck with her future endeavours.
Lastly, I want to personally thank Peter Boychuk for his excellent and dedicated work to serve the arts community and the Alliance. He will be missed and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.