March 2021: The province of Ontario provided an action plan for economic and social recovery through Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries called Reconnecting Ontarians: Re-emerging as a Global Leader. Below is the response letter that PASO/OPSA members put together and submitted to Minister MacLeod. (Click here for PDF of the letter.)

March 4, 2021

Dear Minister MacLeod,

Thank you for the invitation to share our thoughts and recommendations on your thoughtful White Paper, Reconnecting Ontarians: Re-emerging as a Global Leader.

The content herein is a distillation of discussions and agreement amongst members of the Provincial Arts Service Organizations/Organisations Provinciale de Services aux Arts de l’Ontario (PASO/OPSA) coalition.

PASO/OPSA is a coalition of Arts Service Organizations with an Ontario mandate or chapter. Together, we strive to strengthen the environment for the individuals and institutions that create and disseminate the arts in this province, and for the public’s access to the arts. A list of our coalition’s membership is attached. Collectively, we are a powerful conduit to over 272,000 creative workers across the province, as well as the thousands of organizations, large and small, that create and support artistic expression in Ontario.

Informed by our observations as leaders within Arts Service Organizations, the coalition actively advocates for changes in legislation that will benefit the cultural sector’s organizations, artists, performers, as well as for making the arts more accessible for all Ontarians.

We will start with a general comment and then address the action items that are most relevant to the arts, culture and heritage sector.

Firstly, we would like to commend the Minister on her consultative approach, which is much appreciated. We would urge you to continue this post-COVID, and to ensure that the voices of artists and smaller organizations (not just core or key ones) are included. We too believe that the only way to rebuild and reinvigorate the sector in a post-COVID world will be through working together both within and across all sectors.

We recognize the breadth of the portfolio of your ministry and are hoping for an opportunity to explore synergies within the different areas of the Ministry, for example Tourism. Additionally, this presents an excellent opportunity to work in partnership across other ministries.

Our first comment is an obvious one and will, we are certain, be answered as various programs roll out. We look forward to getting more clarity around the specific funds mentioned in the White Paper (e.g. Community Building Fund, the $180.5 million for employment services and training programs, support for OAC and OTF, etc.). We are looking for more details on targeted support for the arts, culture and heritage sector and how to access it. Many of our comments are posed as questions to be answered in areas where we are seeking more detail.

Following are more specific comments by action item:

1. Ontario Place – We would like to ensure that the redevelopment plan includes appropriate support for artistic programming across multiple disciplines, not just for the initial re-launch, but on an on-going basis.

2. Stronger Communities – Community Building Fund – We are looking forward to hearing more details, but would like to ensure that the Fund clearly states that the arts and culture sector is eligible; that the support for stream one embraces digital infrastructure and initiatives; and that the second stream (support for infrastructure rehabilitation and renovation) includes eligibility for facilities run by arts and culture organizations, including artist-run centres.

3. Restore Confidence and Strengthen Inclusivity – Will there be encouragement /incentives for key arts and cultural institutions to work with smaller ones on best practices and training? Will there be sufficient financial support for required PPE? Will there be an opportunity for individual artists/creative workers and smaller organizations to have a voice at the table?

We continue to advocate for an investment of $10 million for an Indigenous Culture Fund. This would provide much-needed support for Indigenous cultural production and economic stimulation within Indigenous communities.

4. Compete for Global Festivals, etc. – How much new money will there be for this? What is the impact on current programs? When will there be details around how the centralization process will work? There is some urgency for organizations like Celebrate Ontario in order to maintain consistency in providing services.

5. Strengthen Commitment to Creative Industries – Tax Credits – We would like to see the exploration of a regime of tax credit solutions to assist in the recovery of the arts sector, for example with consideration of how such solutions might impact commercial theatres. Live commercial theatre has fallen through the cracks and is not recognized by any government as a major contributor to arts, culture, heritage, economy or tourism, and is therefore not considered in any of the relief programs announced as recently as this week.

6. Skills Development – We are looking forward to hearing details of how the $180.5 million will be structured. Will there be funds specifically targeted to the arts, culture and heritage sector? We want to ensure that eligibility is not too narrowly focused on the company/industry side of the sector, but includes artists and creative workers who are freelance, gig workers, etc. We want to ensure that internships and experiential work placement programs are included.

7. Capitalize on Emerging Creative Industries Markets – We are very supportive and also want to ensure that the importance of live and non-digital creative content/initiatives are not devalued/forgotten, particularly as these are jobs that will resist automation.

8. Protect Core Cultural Institutions – We also want to ensure that there is direct support for individual artists and the many grass roots organizations that are an integral part of the arts ecology. Will there be any incentives for core organizations to work with smaller community organizations? We want to ensure that there is a transparent process in the current consultation base that is inclusive of BIPOC individual creative workers and smaller organizations.

9. Reconnect Ontarians – Ontario’s Action Plan – There is a current focus on 2021 which raises concerns that this will only benefit organizations with outdoor events in the short term. We recommend that the focus should go beyond 2021 and include 2022, given the continuing challenges of the pandemic. We want to ensure that eligible expenses will include travel and the cost of tickets/access to arts and culture destination/events as well as PPE support for those destinations.

10. Develop a Globally Competitive Suite of Products – In that arts and culture initiatives underpin many tourism destinations, we confirm that we are eager to be part of the planning for this exciting opportunity and are looking for more detail. We want to ensure that there is consideration given to programming support.

11. Open Ontario up for Business and Visitors – Will there be an opportunity for the arts, culture and heritage sector to work with the modernization plan for the Ontario Travel Information Centres to ensure that the Centres have on-going access to information on arts, culture and heritage initiatives to share with visitors?

Again, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. We are passionate believers in the arts, culture and heritage sector and its huge contribution to Ontario’s double-bottom line. We stand ready to continue contributing insights going forward.


PASO-OPSA’s co-chairs:

Zainub Verjee – Executive Director, Galeries Ontario / Ontario Galleries

Ruth Burns – Executive Director,  Ontario Culture Days

cc. PASO/OPSA Members: Diane Davey, Executive Director, WorkInCulture; Jacoba Knaapen, Executive Director, Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA)

PASO/OPSA Coalition Members

Alliance culturelle de l‘Ontario

Artist-Run Centres & Collectives of Ontario (ARCCO)

ArtsBuild Ontario

Association des auteures et auteurs de l’Ontario français

Association des professionnels de la chanson et de la musique (APCM)

Association for Opera in Canada

Bureau des regroupements des artistes visuels de l’Ontario (BRAVO)

Canadian Alliance of Artists – East Chapter

Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC Ontario)

Canadian Music Centre

Choirs Ontario

Craft Ontario

Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO)

Dance Ontario

Dance Umbrella of Ontario

Directors Guild of Canada (Ontario)

Folk Music Ontario

FUSION – The Ontario Clay and Glass Association

Galeries Ontario / Ontario Galleries (GOG)

Ontario Culture Days

Ontario Presents

The Association for Opera in Canada (

Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada

Réseau Ontario

Théâtre Action

Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA)


February 2021: This year, the province of Ontario invited written submissions to inform budget consultations to be sent to The Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance. Below is the letter that PASO/OPSA members put together and submitted.

letter to the Minister of finance: Provincial Budget consultations

Dear Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy,

On behalf of the Provincial Arts Service Organizations of Ontario, a coalition of 27 organizations serving Ontario’s arts sector, we would like to thank your government for its tireless work to support Ontarians through this pandemic. We are grateful for what has already been provided to individuals, small businesses, and the arts and culture sector.

At this time, we are writing to make key recommendations for the 2021 Budget. We recommend:

  1. A permanent increase of $25 million in base funding to the Ontario Arts Council, to be distributed at the discretion of the OAC including to its identified priority groups. We applaud the support that has already been provided, and strongly recommend this permanent increase to ensure our sector’s long-term vibrancy. It is critical that this funding include individuals, collectives, and organizations of all sizes to ensure the resiliency of arts and culture in Ontario, a significant contributor to the GDP of this province’s economy (3.4%). 
  2. Increased COVID-19 relief support for individuals. To move our sector beyond the emergency phase, we recommend the creation of a high-access, rapid-response relief fund for individual artists and arts workers. This fund should be open to all disciplines and prioritize equity-seeking groups, as well as those who have sustained significant income loss due to COVID-19. Criteria should be flexible to best provide the needed relief for individuals, and not be seen as a replacement for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
  3. Paid Sick Leave: We strongly recommend implementing paid sick days for all employers so that workers don’t come to work sick. Sick days make workplaces safer for everyone, supports higher retention rates, and are a key pillar of an equitable approach to decent work. Sick days are fundamental to keeping communities across Ontario safe. We note that the federal government has already moved to cover paid sick days with the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. However, this remains insufficient as the program provides less than minimum wage and has other shortcomings.
  4. Funding for PPE and HVAC upgrades: Arts facilities that host gatherings for the general public (such as conferences, special events, live events) need financial support to welcome Ontarians and tourists back into safe environments. Organizations of all sizes must receive sufficient funding to ensure spaces and events across this province are safe.
  5. Indigenous Culture Fund: We continue to advocate for an investment of $10 million for an Indigenous Culture Fund. This would provide much-needed support for Indigenous cultural production and economic stimulation within Indigenous communities.  

These five recommendations will be crucial elements in ensuring the resilience of our sector. It depends on continued support from the Province of Ontario to provide meaningful cultural experiences and economic stimulation to our communities throughout and after this crisis.

As a powerful conduit to the arts community, PASO-OPSA would be happy to provide further information on the above recommendations and insight from our sector.




PASO-OPSA’s Co-Chairs:

Zainub Verjee – Executive Director, Galeries Ontario / Ontario Galleries

Ruth Burns – Executive Director, Ontario Culture Days