By Peter Akman, Investigative Journalist, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
The money keeps on flowing from a massively over budget government fund set up to promote Canadian “culture” to the world. What that means, when you dig into documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation about the Mission Cultural Fund (MCF), is millions of dollars are being handed out seemingly without much rhyme, reason or accountability.
Included in this taxpayer financed fund was a red-carpet event celebrating the photographic skills of Bryan Adams. In 2017, the Trudeau government spent nearly $52,000 of taxpayers’ money on the photo exhibition by the Canadian rock star. He had taken pictures of many of his famous friends, including the prime minister.
“Bryan Adams has plenty of money,” said Aaron Wudrick, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “I am sure he wouldn’t have noticed if he had to pay for that himself. Artistic endeavours are fine, but is this really a good use of taxpayer money?”
The exhibition, called “The Canadians,” was made up of photos taken by Adams, including a large black and white picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It shows the prime minister half-turned towards the camera, dressed in suit pants and a white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
Trudeau’s image was featured alongside photos of the Queen, and famous Canadians such as the Weeknd, Joni Mitchell and Wayne Gretzky.
And while the MCF’s mandate is to “promote Canadian culture and creativity on the world stage” according to Global Affairs’ Stuart Savage, we all paid the price tag for the glitzy event to be put on at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – that’s in Toronto.
The “exclusive engagement” was hosted during the ROM Ball on May 6, 2017, and, according to the museum’s promotional material, it was “set to be Ontario’s preeminent red-carpet cultural gala in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.” There was said to be an “impressive” cocktail reception, “majestic” dinner, and live performances throughout the museum. Adams himself was in attendance for the official unveiling, during the cocktail reception. And despite taxpayers funding the event, tables for the night, said to be “very limited,” cost those in attendance between $25,000 and $50,000.
But while touted as a “one-night” only event, later in the summer, the exclusive photo exhibit was reopened to the general public who then had to pay a fee to see it.
The MCF had budgeted $64,000 for the fundraising event, and spent $51,145.59. This despite the Ontario provincial taxpayers already forking over about $27 million every year to support the Royal Ontario Museum.
The Mission Cultural Fund was created in 2016, as a $1.75-million-a-year fund “designed to promote our artists abroad while advancing foreign policy priorities,” explained Savage during a Senate committee hearing in 2017. But in the first three years, the fund went way over budget by more than $6 million.
And despite the $50,000 in funding going to promote millionaire rock star Bryan Adams in Toronto, documents obtained by CTF show much of the money has been spent under the guise of “Cultural Events” meant to raise “Canada’s Global Image” abroad.
“For some reason, I thought visual artists had a hard time accessing the Mission Cultural Fund,” said April Britski, National Executive Director of the Canadian Artists’ Representation. “I have not heard from anybody who has accessed that money.”
Britski’s non-profit group believes artists, like professionals in other fields, should be paid for their work and share equitably in profits from their work. She says federal funding would be better spent supporting artists with a living wage.
“They may receive grants, but they don’t include money for living costs, so the majority of those grants, or all of it, goes to actually producing the works.”
Visual artist and musician Peaches did receive taxpayer dollars from the Mission Cultural Fund for her first solo art show titled “Whose Jizz Is This” in Hamburg, Germany, in 2019.
“I wanted to answer the question, can I make performative work that still has the strength of my message and I wanted to make it an experience,” said Peaches.
Peaches message for the last 20 years has been about “sex, feminism, queerness, gender and new millennium politics” and this show did just that – featuring sculpture, prints, videos and an eclectic cast of giant sex toys called the Fleshies.
“It is based on a double sex toy called the double masturbator which has a mouth on one side with teeth and tongue and on the other side there is a vagina,” explained Peaches. “They can actually pleasure themselves, they can rewrite the narrative and they don’t need humans.”
Peaches received $8,813.70 from the taxpayer funded MCF, along with other money from the Canadian embassy in Berlin, the Canada Council for the Arts and other German based funds to put on the show at the famous Kunstverein art gallery in Hamburg. Peaches expressed her appreciation for the grant.
“Thank you, Canada, it was so exciting to have that support and to be recognized so I could do this work.”
When asked about what message her exhibit was sending that would raise Canada’s global image, the Toronto-born artist said: “I think that I have a unique perspective, I think Canadians have a sense of humour and absurdity and a special intellect, humour and point of view.”
“That’s going to be a tough sell to a lot of Canadian taxpayers,” said Wudrick. “I think a lot of people would scratch their heads as to what this kind of spending has to do with Canada. In what way or taxpayers getting any value?
“This government essentially seems to not care and they think people aren’t going to notice the little things. If you can’t keep the spending under control with the little grants, what’s going to happen with multi-billion-dollar programs?”
Peaches confirmed funding she received for her show from the Mission Cultural Fund was secured by the head of the Kunstverein, who she says regularly promotes Canadian artists.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation reached out to Global Affairs, the Kunstverein and Bryan Adams to comment on the Mission Cultural Fund, but, as of publication, they have yet to respond.
-with files from James Wood