• By: Simon Vodrey

Andrew Cash: Not Your Typical Member of Parliament

Andrew Cash, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Toronto-Davenport, serves as the deputy critic for Canadian Heritage and sits on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, but he is unlike many of his predecessors who have held this position in the past. Prior to his running for public office in the 2011 general election, which resulted in his decisive victory over incumbent Liberal Mario Silva, Cash had spent his entire adult life working in Canada’s arts and cultural industries in various capacities. He has been a staff writer and journalist for NOW, a popular news, lifestyle and entertainment magazine distributed in Toronto. More notably, Cash has worked as a professional musician, recording artist and songwriter for more than 25 years. He recorded and released a dozen albums and won a Juno Award in 1993 for Most Promising Group (the Skydiggers). To say that Andrew Cash is familiar with Canada’s arts milieu would be an understatement.

While at first glance, Cash’s transition from being an acclaimed singer-songwriter – writing songs about social justice – to being a deskbound MP may seem illogical, he maintains that, even before his election, he “had always been participating politically and as an activist” and that becoming an MP was part of his logical evolution. He explains that: “Consequently, I tried to make my artistic practice connect in some kind of real way with the issues of social justice and equality.” Cash claims that this evolutionary process became clear to him when observing many of Toronto’s then serving MPs. “I felt that there was a lack of real engagement among elected members in Toronto who had taken their seats and the work they were charged to do for granted.” Cash set out to reestablish a sense of engagement and connectivity with voters on issues that he felt were absent in Ottawa’s “politics as usual” ambience.

To this end, as an MP, Cash focused much of his efforts on advocating for greater employment and retirement stability and security for Canadians who work part-time, on a contract or freelance basis. In the past, artists and journalists were two of the few professions in which employees were not full-time salaried workers with employment benefits and pensions. However, in today’s age of fiscal austerity and corporate belt-tightening, an increasing percentage of the mainstream Canadian workforce is made up of part-time, contract and freelance workers. Or, as Cash puts it: “Many of our employment policies are predicated on a type of reality that for many Canadians doesn’t exist anymore: working at the same job for life and then retiring from that job with a pension, thereby allowing one to have a dignified retirement.”

Not surprisingly, Cash is an outspoken critic of the Conservative government’s reductions in allocated funding for the arts — although it is important to remember that, historically speaking, the reductions in funding implemented by the Harper government over the past few years have been smaller than those initiated by the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin in the 1990s and early 2000s. Cash himself acknowledges that, while the effects of reduced funding to the arts are likely to be adverse and far-reaching, they are anything but a new phenomenon. In fact, he says: “When you make the kind of cuts this government has (and the Liberals before them cut even more money from the arts than the current Conservative government has), it not only affects the programming and other artistic content itself and causes decisions to be made that are quite controversial, it also shrinks the pool of talent and innovation that you’re trying to develop.” In other words, he maintains that a reduced funding environment for the arts translates into a reduced incentive to produce creative cultural works, be they art in its traditional sense or Canadian television programming, news broadcasting or movie production and that, as a result of this reduced incentive to produce, the workforce in these industries necessarily contracts.

This is a cause for concern because, according to Cash, the artists and innovators in Canada’s cultural industry “spin out” a great deal of wealth and contribute in excess of 5% of Canada’s GDP. Based on this reasoning, he maintains that “the arts and culture sector should be seen as a valuable export factor for Canada.” However, he insists that the current government is “failing to recognize that this is an important source of talent generation and innovation.”

Cash is also on the record as vehemently opposing the federal government’s changes to the Interim Federal Health Program Policy, a move which he sees as limiting refugees’ access to health care during what he identifies as “the bureaucratic gap that occurs between when a refugee lands and when they can qualify to collect health benefits from the province they reside in.” When it comes to tackling complicated and politically-charged issues, Cash maintains that there is an inherent similarity between his earlier public life as a musician and his current public life as an MP. Cash sums up this similarity by explaining that: “Purely on a practical level, canvassing, going door-to-door and speaking in the House of Commons isn’t that different from getting up on a stage and performing in front of many people you don’t know.”