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. Yavar Hameed, NDP candidate for Ottawa-West Nepean, 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?
I have been working in Ottawa as a human rights lawyer for the past 20 years. Many of the people who I defend are located in Ottawa-West Nepean. While I am just one person, I want to make as much of a difference as I can. I want to create a level playing field for Canadians where no one is held back by barriers still standing from a legacy of systemic racism and colonialism.
Why should our readers vote for you?
The cultural heritage of Canada is interlinked inextricably with its past history of colonialism and genocide on Indigenous peoples. The NDP is committed in its policies to work with Indigenous groups and not fight them in court. Intersectionally, as well, the NDP plan supports addressing barriers to those most marginalized in Canadian society in every sphere of its policies. I believe this is vitally important to the cultural well-being of Canada as a nation.
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?
As Canada becomes more aware of its economic dependencies on certain industries, the need to diversify intensifies. While the pandemic has ravaged our country far worse than we ever could have imagined, it has provided us with many lessons about our own society. As Canadians learn more about what it is to be privileged versus what it is to live with systemic barriers, there is a growing need to create cultural centres and events for learning, appreciation, and to provide additional support to those most vulnerable and marginalized. Canada is a mosaic created by what has evolved into our progressive immigration policies, Indigenous nations, and our French and English heritage. Our country is special because of our diversity. The only way to preserve and promote diversity further is by increasing investment and support for cultural resources. Cultural tourism will play an integral role in Ottawa’s reopening and recovery. Ottawa attracts around 11 million visitors every year who spend roughly $2.2 billion, but we lost more than half of the number of tourists and their spending during the pandemic. Investment in cultural resources will enhance our diversity and drive tourism, which will also support local businesses in the recovery.
What specific investments will you support to assist and grow Ottawa’s cultural sector?
The NDP will be there to support Ottawa’s cultural sector with a rebuilding package for the performing arts, theatre, festivals, and other arts that have been most severely impacted by the pandemic. We will also support artists to earn a decent living by playing an active role in promoting diverse voices and cultures. This includes ensuring long-term funding for arts and cultural institutions that will grow and promote Canada’s diverse cultures and histories. Additionally, the NDP will provide financial support for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre. As Canada’s capital, Ottawa should reflect the diversity of Canada and should be a leader in upholding Indigenous rights through appreciation for their arts and culture.