PM raps "out of touch" artists over cuts

Tue Sep 23, 2008 3:22pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, trying to shrug off accusations of censorship in the run-up to next month's election, said on Tuesday that artists protesting against funding cuts by the Conservative government were out of touch with the general public.

The issue of arts funding could hurt Harper in French-speaking Quebec, where culture is a particularly sensitive topic and where the Conservatives need to pick up more support if they hope to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

The minority Conservatives have killed off C$45 million ($43 million) in programs that allowed artists to travel overseas. But Harper argued on Tuesday his government had increased arts funding by 8 percent since winning the January 2006 election.

"When ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people ... all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up, I'm not sure that's something that resonates," he said.

"I think this is a niche issue for some," he told a televised news conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Opinion polls show the Conservatives ahead of the second-place Liberal Party and are virtually certain to retain power in the Oct 14 election, but their chances of forming a majority government remain in doubt.

Quebec artists are due to hold a rally and a concert on Tuesday in Montreal to demonstrate against the cuts.

Harper prompted protests last month when he said Ottawa should avoid "funding things that people actually don't want" and criticized "creators or producers who are entirely cut off from public need".   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens to a question during a news conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>