A year of renewal at the Canada Council
Pierre Lassonde speech
Annual Public Assembly, January 23, 2018
4 pm, Massey-Lévesque Room – 8 min.
Thank you, Tammy. I’d first like to thank everyone here for attending this Canada Council Annual Public Meeting in person as well as those of you online who are watching the simultaneous webcast. Your presence whether in person or online is visible – and virtual – proof of the importance attributed to the Council’s work.
I’d also like to welcome the Government of Canada representatives and thank them for their close collaboration with the Council as it fulfils its mandate to “foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts” both in Canada and abroad.
Over the past few years, the Board of Directors has overseen and supported a profound transformation of the Canada Council. This year in particular, the far-reaching ambitions of this in-depth transformation have become more tangible for everyone concerned – the arts community, Council staff and our partners.
The new Council funding has already had a remarkable impact in all regions of the country and in every artistic discipline. Needless to say, we are investing these public funds based on peer assessment and the highest artistic, organizational and ethical standards. This year was also one of renewal within the Board that I have the honour to chair, with the addition of six new colleagues – a clear majority of the membership. I will now take a few moments to introduce them:
- David Binet, Toronto
- Jennifer Dorner, Montreal
- Cheryl Hickman, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
- Yann Martel, Saskatoon
- Ben Nind, Yellowknife
- Jesse Wente, Toronto
I invite you to read their bios on the Council website. It will give you an idea of the diversity and scope of the expertise that now sits around the Board table.
The Board’s overarching role
I believe that the selection process established by the federal government has ensured broad geographical representation and a wide spectrum of the kinds of expertise needed for governing an organization as essential as the Canada Council. I might add this process is designed to find highly qualified candidates in an open and transparent manner. The candidates chosen, I am sure, will perform their duties with integrity and diligence.
As Board Chair, I am proud of the new members who have been added to an already very solid team. These women and men submitted their candidacies and underwent a rigorous selection process. They are here because they grasp the importance of the arts in Canada and its public funding, and because they want to contribute to the advancement of the arts for the benefit of all Canadians. At this time, I would also like to recognize the other members of our solid team for the past year: Vice-Chair Nathalie Bondil, Beverley Foy, Cheryl Sharfe and Isabelle Hudon (who left us during the year but more on that later).
In short, the current composition of the Board meets all the requirements now expected in terms of diversity of background and knowledge, as well as the crucial inclusion of professional artists. All well and good, you may wonder, but what exactly does the Board do? So, please bear with me, as I give you a thumbnail sketch of the essential role it plays within Council.
For a start, the Board ensures that the organization fulfills its obligations and meets its performance expectations.
The Board thus plays a key role because it ensures that the strategies, plans and actions executed by management and staff meet these expectations in a highly professional and policy-cosistent way.
Of course, the Board is also responsible for assessing risks. I envisage the Council as an entity that is willing to put ideas to the test – and also an entity that not only focuses on the here and now but is also sufficiently detached to ask critical questions and make objective evaluations. And all of this becomes possible only if each Board member is free to express their opinions, while being attentive and receptive to the others.
The Canada Council and its Board: what is discussed
When all is said and done, the Board is the ultimate guarantor of dynamic and responsible governance to ensure that public monies are managed in the interest of all Canadians. This responsibility is all the more relevant during this period of transformation and the incremental doubling of the Council budget from $150 million in 2015 to $310 million in 2021. More than ever, we need to report on and be accountable for our decisions.
As a firm believer in public funding of the arts, I also believe that it’s important for all Canadians to be aware of the role public funding plays in their individual and collective lives.
Let me share a personal story with you. When I joined the Council, I was convinced that Canadians knew very little about the Canada Council and its role. However, a public awareness survey in 2017 showed how wrong I was: a much higher percentage than I thought could identify the Council and its mission. Indeed, the Canada Council received the highest spontaneous awareness rating of all the cultural funding organizations in the survey. What’s even more interesting is that 75% of Canadians across all age groups and household-income levels expressed comparable degrees of support for public funding of the arts. I was never so happy to be wrong!
On more than one occasion this year, I observed how active the Canada Council is in the field, and what an impact its initiatives are having. I’m not just referring to the Council’s arts initiatives, but also the activities of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which operates under the Council’s aegis. The Commission’s #ItStartsWithMe campaign for the elimination of racial discrimination reached more than two million people on Twitter and galvanized government ministers, elected officials, municipalities and mayors, as well as hundreds of organizations, to join this ongoing effort to combat discrimination.
The scope of our partnerships is also remarkable, as the Board can well attest. These partnerships provide substantial leverage for advancing Council’s commitments. For example, the Council’s partnership with the Salzburg Global Seminar will enable five young Canadians to participate annually in this international seminar over the next four years. These participants will make up the initial group of cultural innovators in Canada. The seminar will also give them an opportunity to acquire leadership skills and form strategic ties with other cultural innovators from around the world.
Finally, I would like to make reference to the departure – and contributions – of Board member Isabelle Hudon, whose term expired this year. Isabelle played a key role in implementing the “Arts and Culture Welcome Refugees” initiative in response to the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, and should also be commended for this kind of engagement outside the Board. I’m sure that in her current position as Canada’s Ambassador in France, she will be a valuable ally, not only for the Council, but also for stimulating the outreach of Canadian arts in France and the rest of Europe.
I would also like to thank our Director and CEO Simon Brault for his leadership throughout this transformative year. The Council underwent many changes, and Simon kept it on track. Nonetheless, all this would not have been possible without the dedication, passion and unremitting work of all our employees. I therefore wish to thank and congratulate all of them for a job well done.
Looking ahead, I believe that together we will always continue to do a better job of supporting and promoting the arts in Canada and around the world.
Thank you very much.