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“Shame on you, each and every one.”

in Letters by

Dear Mayor O’Keefe and members of the St. John’s City Council,

It is with great regret (and indeed despair) that I write to tender my resignation as Poet Laureate for the City of St. John’s – coincident with your enactment of budget cuts to the arts and culture sector.

With the recent presentation of your shortsighted and offensive new budget, one devoid of both respect for our cultural heritage and economic sense, I cannot in good conscience continue to act as an official representative of this council. If you enact this budget as is, I will be unable to fulfill my duties as your representative and must step down.

Should you continue with this course of action despite the protests of your citizens, I would ask that you return the remaining unpaid stipend for my position ($10,000 over the next two years) to the pool of arts funding available to the working artists and arts organizations of this city.

Since 2014, I have been an active and vocal ambassador for the City of St. John’s, having appeared many times locally and nationally as a proud representative of a council that was seen to value the social, artistic, and economic worth of its arts and culture sector. I have visited our children in many schools, lectured at universities, appeared before conferences and group meetings, acted as a host and promoter for literary events and much more. I have touted our city on national radio, in print, and in person, travelling on my own money to act as an advocate for our commitment to a vibrant, living arts and culture scene. The budget you have handed down has made not only a liar of me, but fools of us all. You should each be ashamed of what you have done.

Across Canada, and indeed throughout the world, St. John’s has been seen as an incubator for massive artistic talent. Besides the wild success of our visual, performing arts, film, and music sectors, our writing and publishing sector has grown in leaps and bounds over the last two decades. We are home to many of our country’s most prized authors – each one a literary industry in and of him/herself.

When an author writes a book, it is most likely she does so alone in her home, but with the assistance of a variety of cultural bodies, including the City. This book then becomes an economic driver: editors and designers are hired to see it to print, presses and marketing firms are engaged to drive sales, shippers and retailers spend and make money bringing it to the public. But the ripple effect of her efforts doesn’t stop there. The book may be made into a play or movie, creating jobs, requiring goods and services from other sectors, etc. It could be translated and give our city and province a voice around the world, driving interest and tourism. And this is just the economic argument. The social argument is even greater.

People don’t come to vacation or work and live here because of the Fortis Building. They don’t come here because our Convention Centre is new and roomy and takes up half the downtown. They don’t come here to see an ALT hotel blocking the view of the harbor. They don’t come here to take photos of a giant Irving oil tank on the hillside. They come here DESPITE these things, because the lure of our culture and heritage offerings is that strong.

There is no economic sector in Canada that is not in some way supported or subsidized by the government. Manufacturing, mining, forestry, retail, etc. etc. etc. Every sector receives support that helps our small country compete on a global scale. Why then when it comes to budget cuts do some governments (like yours) choose to cut a profitable industry such as the Arts (known to be worth 7% of the GDP – comparable to other major industries such as manufacturing)? The answer can’t be “common sense”; it doesn’t make sense to destroy the foundation of what draws people to this city. It can’t be economics; it isn’t good economics to strangle money making endeavours in a time of belt tightening. But what it can be, and what I believe it is in the case of this council, is ideology. Your development-at-all-cost style of governing is as antiquated as it is misguided. Cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, and even Toronto, know the importance of supporting their cultural sectors – and they don’t have even a fraction of our offering on this scale. We should be like Quebec City – a proud centre for the culture which gave life to us.

The idea that you would trade our culture to pander to oil and big business is offensive and silly. Soon the oil will be gone and where will we be? What will be left? There is only one infinitely renewable resource in this province: culture. And what is culture made of? People. And you are driving those people away.

Shame on you, each and every one. While I respect those that voted against this budget, I believe you are each responsible for creating the climate in which it was tabled.

I urge you to repeal these cuts immediately. If you do, I would be more than happy to continue in my current position as poet laureate. If you do not, then you cannot pretend to be the sort of city that deserves a poet laureate anyway.

Sincerely,

George Murray

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