Lara’s Thoughts on the Plight of Canadian Orchestras

Another side problem to this affair is that our Loonie is flying low at the moment and resident taxes are high, so many players are leaving their Canadian jobs and moving south. I have heard, for example, that a principal wind or brass player can go from a plum Canadian job in a great city (such as Montreal, Vancouver, etc.) to a US city such as, say, Toledo (which I am sure is just lovely, but not quite the same thing) and make 2 times the salary and get paid in USD. And who can really blame these musicians, especially those with families.

Ergo, because of the money problem, it is probable that our orchestras will soon go down in quality. Mostly this problem is contained in the fact that the US makes it so difficult for Canadians to get green cards (you heard it here), but if an American orchestra really wants a player, they have their ways.

Okay, so now you’ve heard about the high taxes in Canada, the great but waning federal arts support, and the southern-bound players.

The crux of this problem is tied in with the tax situation, in my opinion. Canada does not give tax deductions to patrons of the arts! (Well maybe on 18% or something, but that’s about it). If I were a rich someone and wanted to help an orchestra, I would be seriously nonplussed at having to give $150,000 if the orchestra only got $100,000. So here we have the government not allowing deductions for anyone who is brave enough to donate, and then turning around and complaining that they haven’t got enough money to support the orchestras. Does this make any sense?? Occasionally it appears to me that the Canadian government is flailing around oblivious to what’s paralyzing it (in manner of Raid-sprayed bug or similar).

THE SOLUTION: (à la Lara)

Take a page out of the American book. Let Canadian people who want to give money to orchestras, arts organizations, and the like, do so TAX FREE! 100% deductible! The difference between Avery Fisher and Roy Thompson hall is astounding if you read the whole program to the end. Evidently, Avery has some help from the NEA which is around two percent of their funding. BUT! Their corporate AND private donors start at $1 million plus, and there are pages and pages of benefactors. Last I looked, the TSO has about 3 pages and they start at $25,000 CAN, which these days is a little over $15,000 USD.

There are no benefactors in Canada because there is no incentive. Does the Canadian government really think that it is going to make the same money in taxing donors as it would not taxing them and being under much less pressure and financial burden from all the arts organizations? They should do a five-year experiment, where this incentive would be instilled into the Canadian psyche slowly but surely. There would be much more sense of community and pride in the cities, citizens would be happy about the tax break, and the orchestras would stop frigging going under. And I’ll bet the government would save money.

There is also a large inheritance tax in both countries, which in the US is basically quashed if one decides to leave lots of money to an orchestra upon departure from this world. Not so in Canada. Evidently one wants to leave something for one’s progeny (I suppose), but if the government takes the lion’s share, one would have a lot more incentive to leave property and material goods to descendants and leave liquid assets to help the arts free of tax, as happens often in the States. Look at San Diego Symphony. They are now sitting pretty for the next 100 years thanks to one super-ass generous person.

I like to think that incentive and hard work is what built these two countries. I don’t understand why Canada is ignoring the fact that this is working in the States (at least for most of their zillion orchestras), and in Canada it is not.

Sure, this means fund-raising, lots more marketing, and hard work for the publicity departments of orchestras, and less sitting on asses waiting for the monthly government check to come through.

I do believe, in the end, it would be a win-win situation.


i) The somewhat demoralized Toronto Symphony has recently had the sagacity to hire the young and innovative firebrand Liz Parker as Public Relations Manager – definitely a step in the right direction.

ii) A few weeks ago, Calgary Symphony went bankrupt. This is a city basically built on black gold. I refuse to believe that some of those oil folks wouldn’t rather help their community and further music in their town than be sending out to their offshore accounts. If only they would get a tax break from it.

iii) I once heard this statistic which was apparently true 5 years ago: The National Endowment for the Arts of the USA (for 300 million people), and the Canada Council for the Arts (for 30 million people), spend roughly the same amount of money per year. Sort of makes a Canadian proud! and less indignant about taxes.

Before I get too high horse however, this amount was apparently equivalent to what was then spent on only the city of Berlin. Hmmmm…..

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