The economic downturn, plans for new copyright legislation limiting artists' compensation for use of their work, cutbacks in provincial and federal budgets, and municipal belt-tightening on perennially under-funded cultural activities and library acquisition programs all spelled more bad news in 2009 for the already vulnerable climate for translation exchange in Canada. In March, the federal minister of Canadian heritage and official languages announced new investments in literary translation through the creation of the National Translation Program for Book [End Page 218] Publishing, designed to increase the availability of Canadian books in both official languages. Under most governments, this would have been very good news indeed. A program to encourage the translation of our Canadian classics in French and English could make a wonderful contribution to revitalizing Canadians' knowledge and appreciation of each other's culture. At present only approximately one-third of books franco-phones and anglophones consider significant are accessible through translation to readers of the other official language. Worse still, of those translations, many are no longer in circulation. However, in the kind of hypocritical sleight of hand typical of the present Conservative government, this new investment was jeopardized almost immediately by another, less publicly announced decision to downgrade government support for literary book publishing. Publishers having trouble making ends meet tend to reduce their publication lists. Will new translations be a priority?
For the moment, the new funds for translations appear to have little effect on reversing the anglophone trend to fewer translations. Submissions to the 2010 Governor General's Awards in translation (many of which were published in 2009) marked an all-time low at fifteen, compared to eighteen last year, for the French-into-English translation category. The situation is somewhat better into French with twenty-seven books, but this is down from thirty in 2009. Market factors, additional support from the Quebec government, and the fact that Quebec presses have traditionally published more translations in the topical essay category have kept English-French translation more active. From the point of view of cultural exchange, however, the overall trend is an insidious weakening of reciprocity. While the francophone minority culture remains open and interested in the majority's literary culture, Canadian anglophones are being increasingly deprived of information about their francophone compatriots. Not surprising, in such a context, translation itself is still struggling to gain the recognition it deserves as a cultural activity. This is true even within the artistic community itself. For example, the Creators' Copyright Coalition points out that the proposed changes to Canada's copyright law will jeopardize the economic survival of 'Canadian artists, writers, photographers, visual artists, directors, composers, musicians and performers, a group representing more than 100,000 professional creators.' Curiously, translators do not merit mention among the creators listed in the communiqué, even though the Literary Translator's Association of Canada is one of the sixteen arts groups making up the coalition!
The Canada Council, given the responsibility for implementing the new National Translation Program for Book Publishing, will need to do more than advertise the 'butterfly effect' of translation, to improve an increasingly desperate situation. Inevitably translation quality is also suffering. The Canada Council pilot project to fund a revision process for [End Page 219] translations is a step in the right direction. Since the process is optional, and there are fewer and fewer translations being published into English, however, the effects maywell be disappointing. For such a project to be successful, quality control would have to be an integral part of the grant awarding process. Translation quality is vital for to cultural exchange within Canada, where sensitive readings can facilitate cultural dialogue, and inappropriate or sloppy translations can stir intercultural animosity. Less acknowledged is the fact that translation quality also exerts a critical influence on how our writers' works circulate abroad. For a Canadian author, both English and French open the doors to a broad international audience, not just among anglophones and francophones the world over, but to specific international translation relay networks. A Canadian novel in French, available in English translation, for instance, is more likely to be picked up by Nordic language presses. Similarly, works written in English...