Federal Budget 2016

By now, you’ve all heard the good news - the Federal government is investing oodles of dollars in the cultural sector: a doubling of the Canada Council’s annual budget; $281 million to support the construction of a new collection and conservation centre for the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the renewal of the National Arts Centre’s performance venues, and repairs to the National Gallery of Canada; $191 million for trails and highways in national parks. And that’s just the beginning. The biggest chunk of change specifically allocated for heritage is destined for Canada’s National Museums in Ottawa. But there’s also plenty of funding that could directly impact heritage organizations in this province:


  • An additional $165.4 million in 2016-17 for the federal Youth Employment Strategy, some of which will be used to increase job opportunities in the heritage sector under the Young Canada Works program. This funding is in addition to the $339 million announced in February for the Canada Summer Jobs program, to be delivered over three years, starting in 2016–17.


  • $150 million for the Canada 150 Infrastructure Fund. No news yet whether this is new funding or a re-announcement of the $150 million originally allocated to that program last year. Considering the original funding was oversubscribed and applications to the Infrastructure Fund have been closed for some time, you’d think it’s safe to assume that yesterday’s announcement is indeed new funding. If so, and provincial allocations remain the same, it will mean an additional $3.9 million for small-scale community infrastructure projects here in NL. We’ll check back with ACOA in the coming days for confirmation. 


  • $168.2 million over two-years (starting in 2016-17) for the Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund, which supports the improvement, renovation and construction of arts and heritage facilities, as well as the acquisition of specialized equipment. Unfortunately, this program does NOT support the design and production of exhibits, or the two most pressing infrastructure needs within NL’s heritage sector: regular building maintenance and heritage building restoration/renovations, unless they are directly linked to professional arts or heritage programming. 


  • $20 million over two years (beginning in 2016-17) for the National Historic Sites Cost Sharing Program which provides infrastructure funding to non-federally owned and operated National Historic Sites (and there are more of them out there than you might first think!). The big news for this province is that program guidelines will be expanded to include heritage lighthouses. Again, no confirmation yet whether this is new funding. Fingers crossed. Without new funding, the program changes will simply result in more bowls to fill from the same pot. 


  • While not specific to the heritage sector, the additional $4 million over two years (starting in 2016-17) for the Enabling Accessibility Fund could help community heritage organizations make their museums and historic sites more welcoming to anyone with limited mobility, sight, and/or hearing. Something to consider as our core audience ages.  


  • Another potential opportunity is the $149 million for revitalization of small craft harbours across the country. I can think of a number of heritage organizations in this province whose sites border or encompass a public wharf. Maybe it’s time for a beer with the Chair of your local harbour authority to discuss shared opportunities?

It will also be interesting to see how the Federal government’s new Innovation Agenda will impact our sector. Rolling out over the next two years, this cross-government initiative is intended to “redesign and redefine how government supports innovation and growth, in partnership and coordination with the private sector, provinces, territories and municipalities, universities and colleges, and the not-for-profit sector.” What’s that got to do with heritage? It’s too soon to say, but here’s a bit of crystal ball thinking. First, there’s a good chance we’ll see changes in funding programs and priorities at ACOA. Second, yesterday’s announcement that the Innovation Agenda will “define clear outcomes objectives and metrics to measure progress towards this vision” will likely result in increased accountability and reporting for organizations accessing federal dollars. Something that could prove challenging to already stretched nonprofits. And finally, I predict a change in the way cultural organizations (or at least the smart ones) will promote the value of their work to government and the broader public. We can already see this happening in the UK, where museums, galleries, and especially the arts sector are actively promoting the link between creating and innovation. Something for our sector to start thinking about? 

And since I’m editorializing ... As I listened to yesterday’s budget, I couldn’t help but think that our Federal and Provincial governments are operating in parallel universes in which Cathy Bennett is forced to play the role of Walternate, slashing and cutting while her Federal counterpart is busy distributing giant stacks of cash. What will happen when these alternate realities collide? Will BTCRD have project funds to match ACOA contributions (and is it time for a conversation re. increased flexibility in the current 45% contribution?) How will the Federal emphasis on infrastructure and growth impact a sector which is already severely miscapitalized? Is it really prudent for heritage organizations to expand their infrastructure (and by extension their overhead) when core funding is becoming increasingly scarce?