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Global Affairs spends nearly $18,000 on South American jazz tours

Author: James Wood 01/06/2020

The federal government is spending millions of dollars funding arts projects that few Canadians have ever heard of and it’s blowing the budget while doing it.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show that a Toronto-based jazz band, called the Shuffle Demons, has recently been given $17,915 by Global Affairs Canada from a pot of taxpayers’ money called the Mission Cultural Fund. 

The band performed throughout South America with the support from Canadian taxpayers.

Records released to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation also show the band received a total of $367,825 in grants from the arts council from 2013 to 2019. The Canada Council for the Arts is funded by Canadian taxpayers, and is separate from the Mission Cultural Fund.

“The median household income in Canada is about $60,000 a year. That means these grants for this one band cost more than six family’s whole income for the year,” said Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

“It doesn’t seem right to force taxpayers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on music they’ll probably never hear.”

Most of the grants were for foreign travel, supporting the band’s performances and album promotions at festivals in Asia, Europe and South America.

Only two grants were for Canadian performances, one in 2013 and the other in 2019.

The subsidized South American jazz tours are just the tip of the spending iceberg at Global Affairs Canada.

The department blows through its Mission Cultural Fund budget and overspends by millions of dollars every year.

From 2018 to 2019, the fund spent $4,008,018, and blasted through its stated budget limit by $2,258,018. Canadian taxpayers bankrolled 634 overseas events that year.

The fund was overbudget by more than $6 million after three years of operation.

The Mission Cultural Fund is the same pot of money that the Trudeau government has used to fly chefs around the world, including flying a Canadian chef to India to make Indian food while the prime minister and this family were travelling there.

As for the subsidized jazz, all of the events attended by the Toronto band were categorized as being part of “Canada’s Global Image” by Global Affairs.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation reached out to the band for an explanation.

According to Stich Wynston, drummer and co-leader of the band, the money was used to cover their performance fees for special concerts, organized by local groups and the embassies as part of Canada 150 celebrations.

He said the local festivals were eager to have the band perform, but were unable to cover their performance fees.

“(The band) was exceptionally grateful to the Canadian government for allowing them to present high-quality talent at their festivals and to showcase Canada on an international stage to commemorate it’s sesquicentennial,” wrote Wynston.

He said the band did not apply for the funding, with the embassies applying on their behalf.

Wynston also said the performances also “boosted morale” of local embassy staff, and raised the international profile of the band, which would let them tour more, employ more people, and bring the government revenue through taxing their wages.

“If anyone could use a morale boost right now, it is beleaguered taxpayers,” said CTF Federal Director Aaron Wudrick. “It might also be a bigger morale boost to the band if they could support themselves by selling tickets to paying customers.”

Global Affairs was tight-lipped about the jazz subsidies. 

The department said the band was engaged in “cultural diplomacy” in Panama, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as part of Canada 150, which included jazz festivals, events, and music workshops for local youth.

The value to taxpayers was said to be the “cultural opportunities” to promote Canadian values and interests.