The economic return of arts and culture

James Moore, a former Minister of Canadian Heritage, explains the importance of arts and culture to the economy.

To borrow a phrase from an American political advisor to Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential election—’It’s the economy, stupid.’

Over the past nine years, especially during the 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party hammered that mantra home.

If you recall, everywhere you turned, some Tory politician or spokesperson was asking for a “strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government” while trumpeting their economic credentials.

Conservatives like to portray themselves as the guardian of taxpayer’s money and responsible spending on economic priorities, such as infrastructure or national defence.

However, there’s more to government spending to those kinds of priorities, as brought up by federal Industry Minister James Moore last week.

Moore, who was in Cranbrook to address members of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, spent much of his address speaking about the economy both from an inter-provincial and internationally standpoint.

However, he did devote much of his time afterwards to taking questions from the crowd, one of which was from City Councillor Danielle Cardozo, who asked Moore to explain the relationship between government funding of arts and culture in the context of generating economic activity.

It was an interesting question with an even more interesting response from Moore, given his background as a former Minister of Canadian Heritage from 2008-2013. He answered Cardozo’s question with statistics and personal stories during his time as heritage minister.

“Arts and culture represents 640,000 jobs in the Canadian economy,” said Moore. “It’s three times the size of Canada’s insurance industry. It’s twice the size of Canada’s forest industry.

“It is a massive part of the Canadian economy.”

Given it’s impact on the economy he also lamented what he said is an apparent disconnect or general unawareness of Canadian history by Canadians.

“In only four of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories is it mandated for a child to take a history class in order to graduate from high school,” Moore said.

“So we don’t know a lot about our history, including the fact that one in four Canadians under the age of 25 can name Sir John A. Macdonald as Canada’s first prime minister.

“It’s that bad.”

In the context of arts and culture, Canada has the largest comedy festival in the world (Just for Laughs in Montreal), the largest international jazz festival (Montreal), and one of the oldest established ballet organizations in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, according to Moore.

On museums, Moore recounted an interesting story at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa during his tenure as heritage minister, when he was in the vault containing all the historical artifacts, holding Sir John A. Macdonald’s pocket watch in one hand, and the last spike pounded into the Canadian Pacific Railway at Craigellachie, B.C.

“There I was as a British Columbia heritage minister and I was holding the pocket watch for the man who had the vision, who said Canada will not be complete without British Columbia being a part of the family and built the railway,” said Moore. “And the actual last spike that has been confirmed as the actual last spike, in my hand that cemented my province into Canadian confederation.

“I thought this is a pretty cool Canadian moment, but I also thought it was a pretty disgraceful Canadian moment, because both these items are sitting in a vault and nobody can see them.”

Moore related another story of a stop at a museum in Midway during a tour through the province on his motorbike, where he learned about the history of local Japanese-Canadians who were interned in camps during the Second World War and how they overcame the trauma and rebuilt their lives afterwards.

It was an ‘impactful’ display that needed to be shared with the rest of the country, he said, which gave birth to an artifact-sharing program he developed.

“That was the first time I’d seen it,” Moore said. “That should be in the national museum and maybe if we set up a network all across Canada, we work with the Canadian Museums Association, all the small museums across the country, they will sign an agreement with the national history museum that will give them access to the catalogue of the three million items in the national museum and they can build a thematic that makes sense to them locally.

“So we did that.”

The program was set up and the artifact insurance indemnification fund was doubled from $2.5 to $5 billion, he added.

Moore poked a little fun at himself, noting that such a simple question turned into a lengthly answer, but concluded that investing in the arts and culture should be a priority for any community across the country.

“What is the value to arts and culture to a community?” he asked rhetorically. “It means everything.

“…And in small communities, yes, it requires government spending, and get used to it, because it’s what makes the quality of life that much better for all of us.”