Canada’s “Harper Government” abandons poetry and literature

0 Posted by - March 26, 2011 - Blog, Editorial, Policy, Word

Small Canadian literary magazines are facing catastrophic budget cuts because of changes made to how magazines are subsidized.  Last year the Harper Government created the Canadian Periodical Fund, a streamlined approach to funding Canada’s ever-struggling periodical industry.   But in its new and improved form it seems funding is only available for the big commercial fish in Canada’s small magazine pond.

The Canadian Periodical Fund, which merged together the Publishing Assistance Program and Canadian Magazine Fund, provides subsidies only for magazines with a minimum circulation of 5,000, which is no small feat in Canada’s great and sparsely populated expanse.

According to a recent article in the National Post celebrating the demise of small Canadian literary magazines, the new fund apparently works well for outfits like Chatelaine, Motorcycle Mojo, On-site Heavy Construction News and six other titles who together received the lion’s share of the money and more than $1 million each.  The six literary magazines that did qualify (down from 11 last year) scrabbled after a mere $126,000 ($93,000 less than last year) between them, and they were the lucky ones because many didn’t qualify.

Even more distressing, a higher number of Christian magazines received subsidies from the new fund than literary magazines.  It is a disturbing vision for the future of Canadian literary arts.

The National Post thinks there is too much poetry in Canada (at least Post writer Michael Lista does), and that market “culling” will solve the problem.  No doubt there is lots of debris in small literary journals. But the market also produces shite culture, and the little literary mags are peppered with true gems of fiction and poesy, the kind of cultural creations that we want to collectively treasure and pass down to new generations.  And more than that, small subsidized journals are the proving ground for Canada’s next generations of literary excellence.  And not just in the literatures — writers end up in all kinds of interesting places, working in film and television, as speech writers, as advertisers, even at the National Post.

We love what the market gives us — American Idol, Chatelaine, Jersey Shore, Penguin Eggs, The Wire, and so on.  And we love who gets helped up the ranks through our subsidized literary system — Michael Ondaatje, Thomas King, Johanna Skibsrud, Margret Atwood, Al Purdy, Lee Maracle, Rawi Hage, Yan Martel and on and on, those whose early works (at the very least) could and would only see publishing daylight by a small risk-taking and very Canadian literary project.

The point is not that one way is better than the other, but that relying only on market forces to determine what survives as literature in Canada seems unnecessarily narrow. The market culls a certain way, that’s all.  It isn’t the best way for all things, and it isn’t the only way.  And in any event these numbers are miniscule compared to most other kinds of costs – take your pick from increasing Defence budgets to expanding prison systems.  They’re crumbs by most federal budgetary standards.  Do we really need to take the crumbs away, too?

Email or text your local MP as they get in gear for our May 2, 2011 election and tell them what you think about the changes made by the Harper Government to Canada’s magazine subsidies.

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