Canadian unions protest funding cuts

Guild chief warns against putting culture on 'back burner'

TORONTO -- Canadian film and TV unions and producers on Wednesday staged countrywide protests over federal arts funding cuts just days before a national election.

"Culture is an economic engine that contributes 1.1 million (direct and indirect) jobs in this country," Richard Hardacre, national president of Canadian actors union ACTRA, said at a rally in Toronto. He added that actors must underline the value of Canadian culture to ordinary Canadians.

"This is not a time to put culture on the back burner," Writers Guild of Canada president Rebecca Schechter warned after Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dismissed domestic artists as "elites" who attended red carpet galas.

Events also were held in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax and elsewhere to protest CAN$45 million in recent cuts imposed by the ruling Conservatives to domestic film and TV production, and other cultural funding.

The cuts have hit taxpayer-funded programs that enable Canadian artists and producers to attend international festivals and markets to showcase and sell their wares.

Mark McKinney, at the Toronto rally, urged Harper of the governing Conservatives to follow the lead of California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and work to ensure that film and TV jobs don't leave the country.

"Now there's a conservative advocating for an industry," McKinney said of Schwarzenegger urging tax incentives to stop runaway production. He added that consistency in Ottawa would encourage and sustain Canadian creative talent here.

"We have the ability to get back lost talent that goes to London or Los Angeles because it's never sure what Ottawa will do," McKinney said.

Trevor Fencott, CEO of video game maker Bedlam Games, told a Toronto industry panel that he and fellow producers need to secure development financing and partners overseas, and are hard-pressed to travel without government subsidies.

"It's Los Angeles and Tokyo for our industry. If you don't go there, where will you get the money? They're not going to come to you," Fencott said.

Canadians go to the polls Tuesday.
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