Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saskatchewan Status Act? What does the Act do?

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It declares the value of artists. The government recognizes artists provide an important contribution to the cultural, social, economic and educational enrichment of Saskatchewan and the value and importance of artists’ contribution to cultural heritage and development is acknowledged. In practical terms, it states that artists should be fairly compensated for the creation and use of their artistic works.

The Act affirms the fundamental principles that artists have right to free speech and freedom of expression. Equally, affirms the right to promote their social and economic interests through professional organizations, the right to earn a living from their art, to be treated fairly by government and society, to enjoy the same economic rights and social benefits available to other workers, rights to education and training, and the value of making artists’ work available to the people of Saskatchewan.

The government undertakes to promote and protect the status of the artist, declaring it to be a public good and service to the community. Also, there is commitment to promote working conditions for artists in government, to honour scale agreements of artists’ organizations and to honour the protocols established by those organizations. However there is a catch. The government conditions this commitment by saying it will do so “as far as it considers it reasonable and appropriate”.

The Act is frequently referred to as “enabling” legislation. Practically this means the Minister is enabled to examine a number of status issues critical to artists. These include labour relations and collective bargaining rights, the application of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety legislation to artists, pension plans, education, professional development and training programs, taxation, and other issues. The Minister is empowered to establish regulations under the Act; this means that relevant measures can be added to the Act by regulation without going through the legislative process. The down side of regulations is these can be altered or deleted by a new government. Legislation is more difficult to change. The Minister has power to create advisory committees (e.g. MACSA) and propose amendments to the Act. (Such amendments require legislative approval.)

“Artist”, defined by the Act, means any professional creator, interpreter working in any artistic field, these include literary, visual, electronic and multimedia and internet arts, film and video, crafts, performing, sound recording and commercial advertising.

What is the Act’s practical importance for Artists?
Certainly it is a positive step in the recognition of the artist’s value and as a statement of principles. It enables, to some extent commits, government to action on Status issues. Organizations and individual artists can justifiably claim the “intent” of the Act in support of fair treatment and fair recompense when dealing with government departments, agencies and crowns. And should do so.

The Saskatchewan Act is not as comprehensive as either the Quebec or Federal Status Acts, but does represent a substantial step forward in so far that it offers a stage from which further action can be built.

The Saskatchewan Arts Alliance has made proposals for amendment of the Act to strengthen its impact, in particular eliminating the conditional clause mentioned above and inclusion of a more extensive definition of “professional artist” similar to the original Artists’ Code.

The Act is quite short and easily found on the government web site at www.qp.gov.sk.ca/documents/english/FirstRead/2002/bill-73.pdf

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