Tax the Rich for Art

plus notes on Conservative zoom aesthetics & mid-century Canadian nationalism

Conservative Zoom Aesthetics

The Conservative Party of Canada held their convention over the weekend. Saturday morning I clicked a link and watched about three-and-a-half minutes of a panel about the “entrepreneurial spirit” of “hard working immigrants.” Strangely, no one pointed out that it’s often entrepreneurs (i.e. businesses) hyper-exploiting immigrant employees that makes the work so hard. Maybe they got to that in the fifth minute, after I closed my browser window.

You either really love politics or you really hate yourself (or you work in the media) if you watched this convention at any length, what I’m assuming was a litany of landlords, PMC strivers and Ski-Doo dealership owners on a 3-day long Zoom call. If the segment I watched is representative, they all spoke to webcams in front of an off-white wall in their McMansions, the curtains closed, not an artwork or a knick-knack in frame to imbue them with even the slightest hint of personality.

It’s hard to say what’s worse, the ghoulish policies or the soulless veneer. Well, the ghoulish policies are obviously worse, but I’m just mad because the production values of Canada’s Official Opposition are lower than my podcast’s.   

Mid-Century Canadian Nationalism

I’m reading Arrival: The Story of CanLit (2017) by University of Toronto literature professor Nick Mount. It’s an institutional and social history of Canadian arts and culture from about 1950-1973, a time of high Canadian nationalism. Reading it, I’m starting to understand what would possess you, a good Canadian, to stuff your children in a wood-panelled station wagon, then haul them to Montreal just to admire a geodesic dome in celebration of the country’s centennial. It’s maybe not that different of a sentiment that fuelled the left nationalism of the Waffle faction of the NDP in the early 1970s.

Besides all the propaganda (and this is me now, not Mount) you probably felt nationalistic because the welfare state made your life better in tangible ways, say, by under-girding your wage increases through labour law, giving you public healthcare (new at the time), and sending your kids to university for cheap. You and yours were on an upward trajectory.

And those who were excluded from the windfall, or who were stolen from to make that nation happen, didn’t have the same reasons to feel patriotic, to put it lightly. It’s why today, after the ravages of neoliberalism and the revelations about colonialism, many are likely to announce, in internet parlance, that Canada is fake—especially if they don’t see a livable future before them.

Tax the Rich for Art

A passage I heavily underlined in Arrival: The Story of CanLit mentions that the Canada Council for the Arts was founded in 1955/6 with the inheritance tax collected from two of Canada’s richest men when they died within six months of each other. The feds soaked their estates for a total of 100 million dollars—approaching one billion in today’s money. Moments like this, no doubt, upset the ultra-wealthy, a reason why currently no inheritance tax exists in Canada.

That seed money from way back still buys groceries for a filmmaker or a painter for a few months when they win an arts grant—instead of funding a new chandelier for the yacht of a robber baron’s great-grandson, as it would have done otherwise. We should commission a new Heritage Minute to celebrate this small, triumphant episode of Canadian taxation.

Read Aaron’s latest article in Passage, “After the Cold War, Canada and China United to Honour Norman Bethune,” here.

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