On September 23, the Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette, delivered the Speech from the Throne to open the second session of the 43rd Parliament. Traditionally, the Speech introduces the government’s directions and agenda for the coming session, and outlines how it will work to achieve them.
“Do we move Canada forward, or let people be left behind?” Payette asked in the speech, given at a time in Canada’s history that is unlike any other in the recent past. Between economic uncertainty, a global pandemic, climate change, systemic racism and social isolation, there is much that the government can do- but much that is also limited in global circumstances.
Alongside promising dramatic action, the Throne Speech specifically targeted out the tourism, hospitality and cultural sectors for initiatives to assist their recovery efforts from the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, these industries employed more than two million Canadians; an estimated one in every eleven jobs. But restrictions on gathering sizes, border closures and limitations on travelling and capacity reductions to protect the greater public health have left many arts organizations struggling. It is uncertain how many will survive and return. These reductions will likely be amplified in the coming months, with a second wave of the pandemic upon us, and summer domestic tourism coming to a close. The colder weather also means that outdoor performance spaces- previously seen as an opportunity to share in-person artistic experiences- will also soon be unavailable. Any small increase in revenues that artists and organizations saw may soon vanish.
With this in mind, the tourism, hospitality and cultural sectors are in need of the government’s assistance. The two major promises outlined that will support the sector are merely extensions of programmes already in place:
- Extension of the Canada Emergency Relief Benefits- set to expire on September 27th, an expanded and revamped employment insurance system will take the place of the popular CERB program, which provided financial support to individuals who lost their income as a result of the pandemic. The new program, Canada Recovery Benefit, promises $400/week for up to 26 weeks and will also assist those who were ineligible for EI (such as gig and contract workers).
- Extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to the summer of 2021- for organizations, this benefit covered up to 75% of wages for those who lost revenue during the pandemic, allowing their staff to be kept employed.
Additional tools are being offered to organizations, such as an expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account program, and improvements to the Business Credit Availability Program; however, individual artists will not see a benefit as a result of these.
The Speech also addressed an investment in technology specifically to improve COVID-19 testing, including faster and safer tests and a vaccine strategy once one becomes available. These measures will be key to the long-term recovery of the arts and cultural sector.
The fact that the arts and cultural sector were specifically acknowledged in this year’s speech is a promising sign that the government recognizes and is committed to the needs of the industry. However, the work is not done. These promises are only just starting to be implemented, and there is much more that could be done to support individual artists and ensure that those in smaller organizations (like many arts organizations) who may not qualify for these programs are still able to see benefits. There is still much to do and a long way to go before we can be confident that Canada truly is moving forward in this extraordinary time.