Many local issues are being discussed in this election, but Ottawa’s vibrant arts and culture scene doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. That’s a shame, because Ottawa is a heavy hitter in supporting a strong cultural sector. However, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the city’s arts scene, and it will take many years to rebound.
The Ottawa Cultural Alliance and Apartment613 are just two of many organizations devoted to fostering Ottawa’s arts and cultural scene. We jointly developed a candidate questionnaire and are publishing all the response we receive prior to Election Day on September 20. Alex McDonald, Communist Party of Canada candidate for Ottawa-Centre, was one of those who took the opportunity to respond. Check out the other candidate responses here.
What are your roots in the riding where you are running for office, and how have you been involved in the community?
Throughout the 1980s to the mid-’90s I was a resident of this riding while working as a taxi driver and studying at Carleton University. I then returned to the riding in 2012 and have resided here since. During this time I have represented the Diamond Taxi drivers as a shop steward and also on the Ottawa and District Labour Council. I was formerly a member of the Ottawa Health Coalition, Ottawa Cuba Connections, and the Ottawa Peace Council. I am currently treasurer of the Ottawa-Centre chapter of Acorn.
Why should our readers vote for you?
I have some personal familiarity with those who work in the arts. My niece met her future husband at the Bluesfest, where he was performing as a guitarist. He has now been working for many years in a local hardware store—wasted potential. Another niece is now well established in Canada’s theatre scene, but for many years she basically lived out of a suitcase. I’m not telling your readers anything new. Artists in this country, the majority of them, lead a precarious financial existence. Worrying about rent payments is not conducive to creativity. What about the audience? I have been transposed while attending theatre performances. Yet I can’t remember the last time I attended the theatre—it has been so long. That is because my financial situation made me feel that I could not afford this “luxury.” There are many like me—many. The Communist Party will significantly increase the living standards of those who currently cannot afford cultural events. Demand will increase. At the same time it will significantly increase the living standards of many in the cultural field. We demand a $23/hr minimum wage, a guaranteed annual livable income, EI accessible to all the unemployed for the full duration of their unemployment at 90% of previous earnings, and the increase of public pensions to a livable level with full benefits starting at age 60.
Cultural resources such as festivals, museums, and galleries play a critical role in the mental health of Ottawans. In fact, seven in 10 residents think cultural venues are important to mental health and well-being. They are places where our most vulnerable citizens can make social connections and be stimulated. Culture is arguably more important than ever as our economy and communities recover from the pandemic. What role do you see culture playing in the city’s reopening and recovery?
Music, art, film, and other aspects of culture are what make life worth living; they are an expression of humanity. People are longing for the return of concerts and other cultural events, and arts and culture workers are longing to return to work. In some places, this has already begun. The government needs to support artists and cultural workers so that they can return to work safely and deliver these events and cultural works to the public.
What specific investments will you support to assist and grow Ottawa’s cultural sector?
The Communist Party of Canada wants to increase public funding for amateur and community arts, culture, and sports, including capital funding, and make them widely accessible and free to the public. As well, we will restore funding to the CBC and invest in the cultural sector through the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, CBC/Radio-Canada, Canada Council for the Arts/Conseil des Arts du Canada and other publicly owned institutions. Many of these operate in Ottawa. What sets us apart from the other parties is that we want to end precarious work in the cultural sector. We want to create state agencies such as the NFB-ONF that allow creators and workers in the cultural industry a stable and decent job.