Feb 27, 2009

Behind the dramatic drop in the budget of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts


Budget commentators across the province (including Marc Lee on this blog) noted the lack of drastic spending cuts to government programs. While there were some cuts to the budgets of particular ministries, such as Aboriginals Relations and Reconciliation, Community Development and Finance, most of those did not seem debilitating (see Table 1.4 on p. 11 in the 2009 BC Budget). With one exception – the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts saw its budget drop by 84% from $353 million in 2008/09 to $55 million in 2009/10.

You’d think that such a big drop in funding would provoke a massive outcry, yet the only ones protesting were Arts and Culture groups (see these articles in the Straight, and in Victoria’s Times Colonist). They are outraged for having their funding cut from $19.4 million in 2008/09 to $11.9 million in 2009/10. This certainly is a big funding loss (almost 40%), and more on this later, but the amounts involved pale in comparison to the total $298 million drop in the Ministry’s budget.

I had to dig into the Estimates (the book of tables that show a more detailed breakdown of proposed spending by ministry and government agency) to find out what is behind this seemingly enormous $298 million budget cut. Here is what I found.

1. Discontinued funding for projects that have been completed or are near completion ($278.1 million) as follows:

  • $275.6 million – Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project
  • $2.7 million – BC 150 years

2. Reduced funding for Culture and the Arts ($13.3 million) as follows:

  • $7.6 million – Arts and Culture
  • $5 million – BC Arts and Culture Endowment Special Account (the cut is due to the loss of investment income on the endowment, but it becomes clear why the Arts community is outraged)
  • $0.5 million – Royal British Columbia Museum
  • $0.2 million – BC Film Commission

3. Reduced funding for Tourism ($5.5 million) as follows:

  • $4.7 million – Tourism (I suspect this will be more than compensated by VANOC’s promotion work)
  • $1.2 million – BC Pavilion Corporation

4. Administrative savings ($0.3 million):

  • $0.3 million – Executive and Support services

Good thing that the Throne speech told us that this government values culture and the arts as “critical drivers of dynamic growth” before the Budget numbers came out or I, for one, would have gotten quite a different idea by looking at these cuts.