Was Sun News' Margie Gillis hate-on a prelude for a Harper led Tea Party North?
Canadian dance icon Margie Gillis speaks out about how Sun News attacked and deceived her, calls for its demise. "I think the station should be taken off until they can prove that they represent Canadian values," she said.
From the beginning, Teneycke was a lightning rod for critics due to his close ties to the Harper government as he worked on bringing Sun News to televisions across Canada. He had resigned from the network last September due to controversy that he had tampered with an online petition created by activist group Avaaz.org to stop a “Fox News North” from coming to Canada.
Yet just months later, the former Harper spokesperson quietly returned to the company fold as vice president. His network took on stories aligned with the Tory agenda, such as questioning public health care, undermining green policies, and of course, attacking funding for the arts.
For years, Harper has shown an unusual disdain for the arts and culture sector. He slashed $45 million slashed in arts funding in 2008, causing outcry from people working in the industry. He made divisive remarks in a bid to pit average Joe Canadians against their intellectuals and artists:
"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers … I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people," Harper said that fall in Saskatoon. The Prime Minister dubbed his opponents "elitists" and said they were preoccupied by a "niche issue."
Harper's rage against arts-inclined "elitists" was strangely reminiscent of the way in which Conservative pundits across the border such as Rush Limbaugh and Republican politicians such as George Bush spoke of the "liberal elite". Their rhetoric helped create a feeling of alienation among working-class Conservatives from their left-leaning fellows.
Both former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and the late NDP leader Jack Layton were alarmed by Harper's rhetoric. "We need to stop this man. He wants to pit everyone against everyone, Canadians against their artists," warned Dion. The NDP criticized Harper's arts funding cuts, running an electronic French-language ad in Quebec that showed the "Conservateur" (Conservative) logo morphing into "Conserva-tueur de la culture," or "culture killer."
People in the arts community worried over Harper's dismissive attitude toward their jobs. One blogger wrote:
"What I find most maddening ... is the revolutionary overturning of the term ‘elites’ to mean, not economic elites such as the Ruling Class, but Margie Gillis and others who live mostly below all poverty lines. The artist who does not serve the state becomes, in fascism, the eternal scapegoat."
Sun News accordingly aligned itself with Harper's views on the arts. In SunTV's advertising plugs, the network calls Krista Erickson "SUNshine girl", and introduced her to the public gazing into the camera with a bold, sexualized "I love sports and country" come on.
Both Harper and Sun News criticize artists' dependence on public funding and grants. Unfortunately, not every artist can be a self-perpetuating success like Justin Bieber: some arts programs, especially those focusing on minority groups and at-risk youth, require funding to serve the community.
The liberal elite scapegoat
And why does Harper go after the artists? While it’s impossible to generalize, artists and cultural sector workers have traditionally been less attached to the Conservative party.
According to a June study by Samara.org, the current Conservative Party’s elected officials are almost exclusively from a business/law career, while the Liberal and NDP party are more likely to come from “liberal arts” and community work backgrounds.
Silencing and discrediting the arts sector is way to silence and discredit people who tend to vote against the Conservative agenda. Sun News anchors regularly use the term "artsy-fartsy" to describe Liberals and "soft" Conservatives, as though being somewhat left-leaning by default connects someone to the arts.