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The Liberals’ message to the film industry is loud and clear

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Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Film Industry Tax Credit mess, it’s that Premier Stephen McNeil and Finance Minister Diana Whalen don’t actually give two hoots about whether my spouse and I stay in this province. That kind of hurts, frankly, and it’s something I’ll keep in mind when the next provincial election rolls around. If I still live here, I mean.

Ever since the Liberals presented their budget, in which they revealed their intention to abruptly dismantle the province’s production industry, I’ve watched the machinations closely. My partner is a television producer and writer, and the instability and uncertainty brought on by this move have been deeply stressful for both of us.

Unfortunately, we know now that after she finishes her current contract, there is a strong chance there will be no more work for her or her colleagues with this company, because the company will probably leave Halifax.   

So, on the subject of saving the film and television industry, I’m more than a little biased.

Obviously it’s not just devastating for us. Thousands of Haligonians are absolutely gutted at the thought of having to uproot their lives and families and move away because of an unfathomably shortsighted and poorly informed government decision.

Heartfelt personal stories from individuals who harbour a deep commitment to the industry and to the province have been shared on social media, in newspapers and in person, and were shouted out during a massive demonstration in front of the legislature. There has been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (hey, this is a naturally dramatic group, after all), yet, through it all, we have seen that these stories move Premier McNeil and Minister Whalen very little.

Yes, the government finally agreed to “talks.” Yes, they made changes. But it was way too little, way too late. Long-term damage has been done, and the sad reality is that the governing Liberals could not care less about maintaining the existence of a healthy, viable production industry.

Besides, they’re just “jobs,” and a job is a job is a job, right?

That thinking makes me crazy. Production skills are learned through an informal apprenticeship system. It takes hundreds of hours of work to get good at making films and television shows, and the skills are pretty specific. Film and television professionals are not working the counter at McDonalds. To suggest that their “jobs” are equivalent to call centre “jobs” or those RBC cheque-processing “jobs” that the Liberals have agreed to subsidize to the tune of $22 million in payroll rebates, is insulting.

The thing I just can’t wrap my head around is why it had to come to this. No one has suggested that there wasn’t room for flexibility on the Film Industry Tax Credit as it existed before the budget came down, but without warning the government dealt the industry a heavy blow, one from which it’s unlikely to recover. 

I suspect this whole sorry debacle originates in a deep ignorance and a critical failure to understand the economic value of the industry (which clearly was underestimated from the outset) and the intrinsic social value of the arts and creative industries in general.

It’s the inevitable “us vs. them” divide: the bean counters vs. the artsy-fartsies. Must creative work always be undervalued? Even the hardest of bean-counting hearts must have a soft spot for a beautiful song, lovely painting, thought-provoking film or a mind-expanding book. Do they live in a world with no art at all?

The bean people would suggest that if a pursuit is not viable without financial support, it simply shouldn’t exist. By way of argument, I would refer you once again to the Royal Bank of Canada’s payroll rebate. And the Nova Star Ferry. And the Halifax Shipyard.

Heavy sigh.

Nurses and health-care workers have already been through this. People who work for community groups that help the hungry, the physically and mentally challenged, and who have had their funding reduced or eliminated by this Liberal government are going through this now, too.

It troubles me that both of the left-ish political parties in Nova Scotia have adopted such fiscally conservative policies after taking power. Is there something in the water at Province House?

It also troubles me that the protests of thousands were met with such callous disregard. When she was pressed by reporters about the proposed change, Diana Whalen’s words on the subject were very clear: “It works for government.”

Which is odd, because I thought government worked for us.

  • Maureen MacDonald

    Great perspective. Although I do take issue with the view that the previous gov was the same. In fact we expanded the film Tax Credit. We expanded funding to the various social groups that have now been cut CNIB, Eating Disorders, CMHA etc. and we did not attack the rights of health care workers. We might not have been “left” enough but we certainly weren’t like this!

  • Paul Pickering

    As an immigrant here less than 5 years, I hear and see example after example of antagonism towards those who live rurally, those who start businesses, those who are a little (or a lot) darker, those who speak with accents, those who don’t have “real jobs ” (film and any other creative industry), those who demand too much (nurses), and those who “come from away”. Wishfully ignored are the Aboriginal survivors of the recent “cultural genocide” (true, not just a Nova Scotia shame). Why are Nova Scotians so angry? Why are Nova Scotians so quick to mistrust each other, whether recently arrived or long-term? I sometimes wonder whether Nova Scotia, or indeed Canada was the right choice.

  • annecalder

    Excellent discussion, Angela. This film tax credit debaucle has driven me crazy – and far removed from a premier I actually voted for.

  • Big C

    I love the part when she brings up the Ferry and the Halifax Shipyard, while these are the not the only coined issues the Film Folks keep bringing up, but what they have failed to see and understand is that these were issues from the previous government and not the current ones. This and many reasons we the public that don’t have biased opinions do understand. The RBC deal is not as good as the purposed FTC at 2.2 million a year and the fact you make fun of these jobs shows the true color of people involved in the industry, much like Snoop did last week. Some people like working for banks and the RBC rebate is no different then what we see with RIM and a few others 10 percent payroll rebate.

  • Russell

    Regardless of whether you agree with her examples, the point of her writing is entirely correct. Liberals were supposed to be the good guys. The empathetic ones. No more. I live far, far from NS, but they no longer have my vote.

  • Big C

    The Liberals are cleaning up the mess from the last government. Maybe if the NDP hadn’t handed over 200 million plus to the Irvings, gave public sector workers a raise, and cancelled the ferry and picked a cruise ship to do a ferrys job, there could of been money for the Film Tax Credit, did you ever think that?

  • Big C

    My perspective is that the Film Tax Credit is the fault of the previous government from over spending, there was money spent that shouldnt have and now the Liberals appear to be trying not to blame and look in the past but we all know what was over spent and where. Trying to buy a Lexus when you can afford a Corolla

  • Mofhrm

    Over the weekend, I met a group of tourists from the US who had come to NS for the weekend to go to the Birchtown celebration on Saturday. The book of Negros put this on the map. This is what the film industry does for tourism in NS. This was not even considered when the liberals made the cuts.

  • Chris O’Neil

    I find this kind of rhetoric somewhat dangerous and damaging. The tenor of this article suggests that we are a special interest group in self-protection mode as
    opposed to a large group of hard working tax payers who are more than capable of seeing the bigger picture.

    “It’s the inevitable “us vs. them” divide: the bean counters vs. the artsy-fartsies.
    Must creative work always be undervalued?”

    I do appreciate this sentiment but speaking as a film technician, I don’t feel all that special and certainly don’t nurture any sense of entitlement regarding my work over that of a hard working counter person at McDonald’s. I do however, as a tax payer; question our governments “gutting” of an industry that ticks so many fiscal boxes. Our industry is a green industry relatively speaking. It is a cash generator and ‘mainlines” money directly into our economy in such a diverse manner; supporting allied industries that one would never think reliant on the film industry to begin with. It is also an industry that can insure the retention of our desperately needed younger demographic. Never mind the “artsy fartsy” rhetoric. If we were to crank up the volume on the “business speak” regarding our industry instead of the “We must tell our story’s” romantic prose we keep tossing out – we might not be in this situation. It amazes me that they can somehow see and track the hidden benefits of a convention centers presence in a municipality but yet our industries spin offs are somehow too ethereal for them. More to the point; why is it that the bean counters can’t see the obvious fiscal merits of our industry? Ah yes; there’s the rub. Our governments lack of any financial understanding regarding our industry has been made all too clear to us now, so in moving forward; the responsibility to educate falls on us. And maybe – just maybe; for this volley anyway- we have fallen a bit short of that task.

  • Dgusset

    Well said Chris.

  • TheGuyWhoCares

    Most people have cinematic blinders, thinking anything to do with film and television must be huge money generators. “Look at all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, you must all be rich working in the industry, why should you get a free ride?” ….Sigh. They have no idea what goes into making something happen, and how long it takes to make any money off of it if, you ever do. No idea the economic boost locally when you buy/rent props, sets pieces, hire local services like taxis, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, catering not to mention accommodations and wages. Wages that then are spent by crew and the above mentioned in the local community while they work. Most industries have a product that they sell and at the end of each day they can count their beans… in this industry there are no incoming beans to count, sometimes for years. You’re almost literally pouring money into the local economy, and the reward is a total gamble. So how does a tax break hurt? By axing the credit, in their greed to try and get more money from what they perceived to be a rich industry, they’ve wound up with next to nothing. Next year it will likely be nothing.

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