What Can We Learn From Quebec's Cultural Policy?

Music and art in French Canada is one of the most successful and thriving areas in the country. It is a diverse field, with every genre being represented, indicative of the love Quebec has for art. There is a spirit to surround oneself with art, music and culture which shows in their cultural exports, with artists from French Canada dominating prestige awards like The Junos or the Polaris Prize. So why is it so different from the rest of Canada? Why is there such a perceived disparity and is there any way we can look to our Quebecois neighbours and learn from them?

Here are four lessons we can take away: 

1: Fund It
There is a focused effort on behalf of the provincial and federal governments to encourage, foster and promote French culture artists. Quebec invests in their artists from all fields, directing more than 216 million dollars in 2016 towards education and culture; that is roughly 21% of their provincial budget which is interesting when you compare it to the amount budgeted by the federal government of $340.4 million that goes towards various arts and culture initiatives, including grants, nation-wide.

Calculating the provincial breakdown of arts, culture and heritage funding is a complicated business due to how each province delegates and assigns the various departments. If you’d like to read more in depth about how each province compares, we recommend this lengthy report from the University of Ottawa.

Investing in the arts can take a multitude of forms, from grants to tax credits, to investment and to celebration. Funding also doesn’t result in a one-way system, it creates jobs, secondary and tertiary industry success, and cultural tourism. Everything from e-books to instruments helps make Canada a more vibrant and richer country, as Statistics Canada measured about 3.7 of all employment is a result of the culture industry and that accounts for more than 3% of the national GDP.

2: Value It
Investing in our arts and culture is essential, and to do that, it requires an organic valuing of what art can be. Not only does it return threefold to our economy, but it helps us celebrate and explore who we are as a people. Art for art’s sake has value, and music is one of the purest forms of expression. Through music we can learn about our past, our present, about the future; we can express emotion and share a collective experience; we can dance, cry, and laugh with music. When we invest in music and art, we are then enabled to develop a deep respect for it and can learn to recognize the value that art can play in the health, mind, and spirit of a people.

Quebec puts arts, culture and education in the same funding bracket, whereas in Ontario, the arts are included under the tourism umbrella. While this could stand as a mere bookkeeping detail, it can also signify the importance we place on the arts. When it is included as an element of tourism, it is monetized in a way that expects a return on the investment. When it is included as 'education' the return is simply the cultivation and celebration of the artistic mind, regardless of whether it turns financial. The point of education is to develop the minds of people; the point of tourism is to bring economic growth to a region. This fundamental difference demonstrates the differences in approach to arts and music, and perhaps we need to be more like Quebec in our approach.

3: Legislate It
In Quebec, French stations are required to follow the CRTC mandated 35% Canadian content (in either language), but the province takes it a bit further by requiring all stations to air at least 65% of their content in French. This isn't to suggest that we need greater national requirements for French music on our radio, but it does lead us to question whether higher CanCon quotas would be beneficial. The debate about CanCon and the MAPL system has been waging for decades, with strong proponents on both sides, but if there’s one lesson we can take from Quebec it is that cultural policies work.

Our cultural systems are only as strong as the policy to support it, so it is essential that the legislation remain strong. If we dismantle these systems, we expose it to becoming fragile. Legislating our cultural industries means we’re willing to fight for them on a political, philosophical and economic basis. It means we value our art and our artists and that we believe there is something essential in expression to the larger themes of identity and belonging. Quebec understands this.

4: Embrace It!
It is almost a stereotyped joke that English Canadian media isn’t good, from our movies and television right on up to our music. This is obviously inaccurate as our media is exceptional and unique, but there is the pervasive idea that we’re not as good as the United States at it, which lulls us into a sense of ‘why bother’. This attitude is a hold-over from our less-than-stellar cultural outpourings of the 50s through 80s (The Littlest Hobo obviously notwithstanding) and the juggernaut that is American cultural imperialism. English Canada has embraced parts of our culture, through giving credit to the East Coast music scene and the smattering of iconic Canadian performers who have risen to the top, but it’s not really something we actively pursue proudly, which is a shame. The problem is that when we view something as second rate, it has a darn hard time escaping that designation, regardless of how good it actually is.

And we need to get past that because Canadian culture is spectacular; from the most complicated fiction narratives to the sounds on our radios. Canada has some of the most imaginative and innovative artists in the world, whether it be in English, French or in one of the 60 Indigenous languages. It’s time we celebrate that and be proud of that!

In line with the theme of the celebration of art, we hope you’ll enjoy welcoming the dozen French artists joining Hillside this season. Together, they represent some of the most creative and bold work being done today, but they also embody the very essence of why the arts are important.