Harper criticized over stance on funding

Says subsidies should go to commercially successful films

TORONTO -- Canadian unions and guilds criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday for calling on publicly funded producers to operate more closely to market principles.

Harper, campaigning for re-election ahead of an Oct. 14 national election, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that public subsidies should not go to cultural product that fails to connect with audiences.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of Canadian actors union ACTRA, argues that, while market forces matter in the making of cultural product, they should not entirely shape it.

"It's important, sure, that product find an audience and have an audience. But that shouldn't be the only criteria," Waddell said. "There is cultural product that may not have a mass appeal, but is important to produce."

The federal government came under fire in August for imposing $45 million in cuts to film and TV groups, including the Canadian Film Center and the Banff World Television Festival.

Brian Anthony, national executive director and CEO of the Directors Guild of Canada, said Harper shows little understanding of a domestic cultural sector that employs 1.1 million Canadians. And Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild, said that Harper's comments side-stepped his government's intention to allow first-time foreign ownership of Canadian broadcasters.

"Under this government, broadcaster Alliance Atlantis was allowed to be sold to CanWest Global Communications Corp., with U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs holding the actual purse strings," Lareau said.