Yann Martel has decided to petition Stephen Harper to increase funding for the Canada Coucil for the Arts. His scheme is the height of audacity and condescension: "For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written."
I am a lover of books, and I value the vast repository of knowledge and wisdom contained in literature, scripture, and essays. I even value Yann Martel's writings. I've read his debut novel, Self, and read Life of Pi before it was endorsed by Oprah. We selected it for our book club as well.
But for Martel to appoint himself the Prime Minister's tutor, to publicly announce the humiliation he intends to heap on him, does nothing but hurt his cause. He may chuckle about it over Americanos at a Queen Street cafe, but he does not serve the Canada Coucil and Canadians by affixing a dunce cap to the Prime Minister's preternaturally coiffed head.
In justifying this stunt, Yann Martel recalls the day he attended the House of Commons as a member of the gallery to commemorate the Council's fiftieth anniversary, and the underwhelming recognition the Council's delegation received. Writes Martel, "Do we count for nothing, you philistines, I felt like shouting down at the House."
No. As you note, you count for precisely $182 million, $9m more than last year. This represents an increase of 5.2%, more than double the CPI for 2006, and a refreshing improvement on declining appropriation provided by Paul Martin's past Liberal government (see page 21 of the 2005-06 Annual Report).
You count for $5.50 from every Canadian, whether they're not old enough to read, too old to read, or don't want to read. Whether they love or hate opera. Whether or not they can tell the difference between a French horn and an English horn. Their $5.50 is yours to disburse to as many starving artists as you see fit.
By the way, I do plan to check out Martel's reading list.