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.
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.