Lip ser­vice

The Compass - - Editorial -

What’s in a word? Well, a lot, some­times when it’s only a word that’s been left out. Last month, as the prov­ince re­ar­ranged its de­part­men­tal deck chairs and pre­pared to lay off a slew of pub­lic ser­vice man­agers, it took the word “cul­ture” out of the name for the newly formed De­part­ment of Tourism, In­dus­try and In­no­va­tion.

Per­haps pre­dictably, peo­ple who worked in the cul­tural in­dus­tries took that as a slap in the face.

They had a right to be of­fended. De­spite the fact that artists, mu­si­cians and other cul­tural work­ers are ac­tu­ally a big busi­ness in this prov­ince, it looked a lot like the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment was tak­ing that work for granted.

It’s a big in­dus­try to choose to ig­nore. Sta­tis­tics Canada num­bers on the cul­tural sec­tor in this prov­ince in­di­cate that, in 2014 (the most re­cent year for which records are avail­able) cul­tural in­dus­tries em­ployed over 5,000 peo­ple, and was re­spon­si­ble for $450 mil­lion in pro­vin­cial gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Seafood prepa­ra­tion and pack­ag­ing in that year, by the way, ac­counted for $204.2 mil­lion in pro­vin­cial GDP.

Cul­ture, like the fish­ery and un­like oil and gas, is a re­new­able re­source, if it’s prop­erly sup­ported. It can be fos­tered and grown. Al­ready, New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans are leav­ing a mark far greater than our pop­u­la­tion num­bers would sug­gest in the Cana­dian cul­tural pan­theon.

The prov­ince does sup­port cul­ture to a de­gree. In the most re­cent bud­get, the com­bined ar­eas of cul­ture and her­itage re­ceived $20.7 mil­lion in pro­vin­cial sup­port. But when you knock out the el­e­ments that carry the bulk of that sec­tor - fund­ing for The Rooms, for his­toric sites de­vel­op­ment, for spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions and events, for the Her­itage Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador (and a com­pa­ra­ble ra­tio of the divi­sion’s over­ar­ch­ing bu­reau­cratic ex­penses), you quickly win­now that num­ber down to just over $9 mil­lion.

That would make a re­turn on in­vest­ment of some 50 times the money spent on cul­ture. And how many em­ploy­ees does it take to over­see the gov­ern­ment’s in­volve­ment in a $450-mil­lion in­dus­try? Some­thing around 25. To over­see the pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity for fish pro­cess­ing and aqua­cul­ture, the prov­ince has 106 staff.

The min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for cul­ture, Christo­pher Mitchel­more, says the name will now be changed to in­clude the miss­ing word.

“The in­trin­sic value of cul­ture, as it has been in the past, will be re­flected in the de­part­men­tal name,” he told re­porters.

So, hur­ray.

The arts com­mu­nity has forced the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to put one word back into a de­part­ment’s ti­tle. The in­dus­try cer­tainly de­served that. It de­serves a heck of a lot more.

While it may be a fine thing to have de­part­men­tal recog­ni­tion again, the cul­tural in­dus­try in this prov­ince - a grow­ing, re­new­able eco­nomic en­gine that brings in­vest­ment and cap­i­tal into this prov­ince - de­serves more than lip ser­vice.

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