Good news! The Canadian Heritage Department has overturned its decision to cut a $200,000 grant to the Literary Press Group, an umbrella of small literary presses across the country.
But nobody is saying how or why.
"I do not know anything and I will never know anything is my expectation," Jack IIlingworth head of the LPG tells me. "That's not how they operate these days."
The department is hardly being prolific on the subject. An e-mail query asking for clarification was answered this way. "The decision was reviewed."
But heritage minister James Moore must have been involved as his tweet from yesterday attests. "It was the right thing to do."
He wasn't the only one addressing the issue in the Twitterverse. A virtual Who's Who of Can Lit had been hammering away at the matter for days.
"Not politicizing it was key," Illingworth says. "We made our own direct approach to the minister's office and encouraged people who are affected by it to get the message not only to him directly, but to anyone who was a Conservative constituent. [We wanted them] to get to their own MPs too and emphasize the importance of what access to these books means. It's clear that that message was heard."
I reached Illingworth by phone where he is attending the Canadian Book Associations meeting in Saskatoon. It was here that the reversal of the decision first became known to him. As it happened, Carla Curran the head of Heritage Canada's Canada Book Fund, was also in attendance giving a presentation to the publishers. As Illingworth tells it, her blackberry went off, and as everyone watched she called him out of the room to give him the breaking news.
Illingworth would have liked to wait for official written confirmation, but, he says, he "had to spring into action because the Globe was working on something and Quill and Quire was about an hour and a half away from putting an editorial to bed for the print edition tearing a strip off Heritage. We had to stop that from going down. The minister's office was keen to contain any further media damage, and if they're prepared to reverse a decision I'm happy to oblige on that."
Written confirmation has since been received but not everyone is entirely happy. David Caron co-publisher at ECW press applauds minister Moore for the turnaround but points out that damage has been done."We had already given notice to staff and to publishers that they would be released from their contracts. and we were already looking at a much reduced advertising budget so there may be publishers who are saying 'I don't think I want to go through a roller coaster like this again'. The sales reps may also feel the same way."
Illingworth concurs. "It's not a consequence-free event at all. It is quite possible that having been exposed to this volatility, some of the publishers who use the salesforce will be asking hard questions about continuing to operate within a business model that's dependent on future goodwill and [committments] that can be overturned by a bureaucratic or a ministerial whim. And the same goes just as strongly for my staff. They have within the space of less than two weeks been laid off and rehired, and if you're a skilled professional and someone who has talents that are in demand you might look very fondly at career options that aren't exposed to the same level of risk."