Takeaways from the 2023 BC Budget and Fiscal Plan
Updated March 1, 2023
On February 28, the Government of British Columbia announced their 2023 budget and fiscal plan, giving us our first look into how David Eby’s government will put their Stronger BC for Everyone platform into action.
For the arts, culture, and heritage sector, this budget and fiscal plan appear to largely follow the status quo, with little significant new investment. Arts BC, the BC Alliance for Arts + Culture, and the BC Museums Association have reviewed the materials from this recent announcement and have compiled four key takeaways for arts, culture, and heritage organizations.
We commend the Government of BC for its stated commitment in these documents to supporting reconciliation and greater equity in arts, culture, and heritage. However, we know that words in themselves are not enough. The chronic under-resourcing of our sector only serves to reinforce inequities and is an impediment to real and lasting systems change. We urge the Province to demonstrate this commitment by providing sufficient funding and support to make these ideals a reality.
The BCMA hopes to publish a follow-up to this document after we have had more time to review the budget documents and service plans.
Where to learn more about the 2023 Budget
Arts, Culture, and Heritage is a low priority for this government
The arts, culture, and heritage sector is barely present in the 2023 budget and fiscal plan, despite being a significant contributor to BC’s GDP and a source of growth in the past year. Page 86 of the fiscal plan notes:
“Employment gains reflected broad-based growth in the service sector (+75,000 jobs), led by the wholesale and retail trade (+32,200 jobs); information, culture, and recreation (+17,600 jobs); and health care and social assistance (+17,200 jobs) sectors. Moderate job gains in the goods-producing sector (+9,000 jobs) reflected growth in the construction (+8,900 jobs), agriculture (+2,400 jobs), and manufacturing (+700 jobs) sectors, which offset declines in the utilities (-2,800 jobs) and forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas (-200 jobs) sectors. The recovery from the pandemic has been uneven across sectors.”
And while the information, culture, and recreation sector added more than 17,000 jobs over the past year, references to arts, culture, and heritage are practically non-existent in the budget documents. Keyword searches within the budget for words related to our sector produce the following results:
Mentions of the word “Heritage“
Mentions of the word “Museum”
(all relating to the Royal BC Museum)
Mentions of the word “Arts”
(all relating to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport)
Mentions of the word “Culture”
(3 being references to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport)
Mentions of the word “Tourism“
Beyond not referencing our sector, this proposed budget actually reflects cuts to our sector in some key areas. The service plan for the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport projects a reduction in BC Arts Council grants awarded over the next three years compared to 2021/22. It notes that this reduction stems from fewer COVID recovery supports and explicitly states that “any increase to this target would require an increased budget or giving more grants at smaller amounts.”
Likewise, the budget documents project a reduction of the BC film incentive tax credit from $166 million annually to $153 million annually.
In most instances, funding for arts, culture, and heritage is maintained at status quo levels, but given the severe inflation of the past year and our uncertain economic future, status quo funding is essentially a funding cut. Challenges which the Province is keenly aware of, given that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport’s service plan states:
“The arts and culture sector continues to be challenged by the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and slower-than-expected recovery, including: audience hesitation to return, changes in audience behaviour and preferences, and a shortage of labour supply which places even more pressure on existing staff. The sector’s resilience continues to be tested by labour market shortages, inflationary pressures on both operating and capital(…)”
The Province has still not doubled the BC Arts Council’s budget
In their 2017 campaign, the BC NDP promised to double the BC Arts Council’s budget, raising it to $48 million annually, which accounting for inflation would be $57 million in 2023. Previously, between 2013 and 2017, the BC Liberals had frozen the BC Arts Council’s budget at $24 million, raising it to $31.2 million in 2017.
In the 2022/23 budget, the Province provided $35.8 million in base funding to the BC Arts Council. While the overall BC Arts Council budget has increased since 2017, when taking inflation into account, the increase to $35.8 million actually represents a reduction in real-world funding since 2017 levels ($31.2 million in 2017 would represent $37.08 million today adjusted for inflation).
Some COVID recovery funding may be available
The 2023/24 budget allocates $20 million in funding for pandemic recovery contingencies towards a “Tourism Initiative Envelope”, whereas this same category had $25 million allocated towards it in the 2022/23 budget. While there are no details on how this funding could be allocated, this is the only COVID recovery funding envelope in the budget that would be relevant to our sector.
As recent closures show, arts, culture, and heritage organizations still have not recovered from the pandemic and it is critical that all levels of government support the recovery of our sector until we stabilize from the disruptions of the past three years.
Supporting systems change requires new investment
The service plan for the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport shows a commitment to supporting reconciliation and equity within its work and impact, listing the Ministry’s strategic direction as “[continuing to work] toward true and meaningful reconciliation by supporting opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to be full partners in an inclusive and sustainable province.” However, without meaningful investment in supporting this strategic goal, we worry that this work will not achieve its full potential.
In the Government of Alberta’s recent 2023/24 budget announcement, they pledged $9.5 million towards supporting one cultural institution, the Telus Spark Science Centre in Calgary, to work with Indigenous partners to reimagine how the organization supports reconciliation and education. Supporting systems change requires investment; under-resourcing this work will ultimately doom it to fail. While recent investments like the BC 150 Time Immemorial Grant Program and the BC Arts Council Accelerate Pilot Program have helped arts, culture, and heritage organizations to begin actioning reconciliation and equity in their institutions and work, sustained funding is necessary to achieve meaningful results. We commend the Province of BC for their words supporting systems change in the 2023 budget documents, but words alone are not enough. Actions speak louder than words and the most impactful action the Province can take is to sufficiently fund this integral work.
BC has the knowledge base and experience to be an international leader in arts equity, but our sector is fighting to survive. The Province of BC has called us to action, but in order to create systems change, we need funding.
How you can help
The 2023 Budget and Fiscal Plan clearly show that the voice of BC’s arts, culture, and heritage sector is not being heard loud enough by the Government of BC. Now is the time to reach out to your local elected representatives and the local, provincial, and federal levels and let them know that our sector matters and that we need their help.
We encourage you to visit the BCMA’s Advocacy Toolkit or the BC Alliance for Arts + Culture’s ArtsVote resources to download advocacy letters, to learn more about speaking with elected representatives, and strategies to make our collective voice heard.