Arts not a priority for PC contenders

The race for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party officially began when former Conservative MP Jim Prentice announced his candidacy on May 16. Since then Thomas Lukaszuk former provincial Innovation and Advanced Education minister and Ric McIver former Infrastructure minister have joined the competition. Over the past two months all three contenders have focused their campaigns on issues of government fiscal responsibility temporary foreign workers natural resources and repairing the party’s image.

Arts and culture have not been on the campaign radar so far and Lukaszuk admits they are unlikely to be but says that doesn’t mean it’s not an important subject.

“People measure quality of life by different standards but many of us would agree that having culture having cultural facilities having cultural programs is part of it particularly in cities like Edmonton and Calgary and where we’re trying to attract people — Fort McMurray Grande Prairie. Those residents want their towns to be homes” he says.

Lukaszuk thinks PC voters interested in hearing the candidates’ ideas on issues other than the oil economy and the PC party’s recent sins will be disappointed unless the three get together for public debates. He says he is pushing to arrange at least one but Prentice and McIver are not interested.

“My biggest difficulty is that I cannot get my two counterparts to enter into a public debate on anything and I wish we did because then those issues would come up…. Has art and culture been a big issue in the campaign? It hasn’t because there hasn’t been a forum for proponents to have an opportunity to make it an issue. That’s a shame because the fact is that whoever we choose that person will be the premier of this province for the next two years and in our system it is the premier’s office that really sets the agenda of the entire government” says Lukaszuk. “So it is critical that any groups that advocate on behalf of one thing or another have the opportunity to be heard and even more so have the opportunity to examine candidates.”

Calgary Arts Development president and CEO Patti Pon agrees the leadership race though technically only of concern to PC party members will affect all Albertans at least until the 2016 general election. She hopes the winning candidate has an understanding of both the importance of arts and culture in Alberta and the need for government support.

“From a provincial perspective the arts investment that occurs is significant” says Pon who says the majority of arts funding in Alberta comes from the province through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

“They are certainly undertaking a great deal of work in terms of dollar investment in artists both individual as well as organizations. The provincial art collection which they buy from artists is one of the most significant art collections in the country and I would argue in North America” she adds.

“What we all know is the presence of the arts and the creative process in any constituency whether it’s a city or a province or a community it does amazing things…. I hope that whoever the next leader is understands that as well as the current premier does.”

Lukaszuk also says the next premier must appreciate the role of the arts in schools.

“That’s where young people not only hone their skills but also develop lifestyles. [If] we get them exposed to arts and culture early in their lives it becomes part of their lifestyle part of their fabric and then they not only become consumers of arts and culture but also engaged in promoting and supporting it and perhaps even being active participants in it” he says.

When Lukaszuk was the minister for advanced education he oversaw severe post-secondary funding cuts that forced schools to abandon established arts and culture curriculum like Mount Royal University’s acclaimed jazz program.

Candidates McIver and Prentice failed to respond to interview requests from Fast Forward Weekly which would have given them the opportunity to weigh in on where the arts fit into their priorities.

None of the three candidates have issued comprehensive policy platforms. However based on public speeches and their online campaigns the three contenders hold similar views. All three consistently focus on responsible government spending improving education and health infrastructure increasing the power of Alberta’s resource economy while concurrently making the province a global environmental leader and making sure the labour market is well supplied.

The PC Party leadership election is on September 6 2014 with a possible runoff vote on September 20.