In this episode of the View 902 podcast I am joined by author, journalist and activist Silver Donald Cameron to talk about his most recent book, Warrior Lawyers – From Manilla to Manhattan: lawyers for the earth, which contains a series of interviews that Don conducted with people around the world who have used the law as a tool to achieve environmental justice. We discuss the concept of natural law, and our duty of care as human beings to the planet and to the creatures with which we share it, and talk about a couple of examples from the book of lawyers and others who have engaged in citizen activism and used the law to combat corporate wrongdoing and change government policy on the environment.Read more
It was inevitable after Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government decimated the Nova Scotia film industry in April 2015 that politically-conscious film industry professionals would fight back. In the year and two months since that disastrous decision – one of many mistakes made by the McNeil Liberals, who have pinballed from self-made crisis to self-made crisis during their three years in office – we have seen a massive protest at Province House, the rise of Screen Nova Scotia as a politically active and savvy lobbying group, and a non-stop barrage of letters to the editor, radio interviews, and articles from film industry workers determined to defeat the government at the first possible turn (a factor that probably led to the election of NDP MLA Marian Mancini in a Dartmouth by-election last year by a tight margin).
Now two veteran and award-winning Halifax-based filmmakers, both of whom were instrumental in crafting the old film funding system during their time as Program Administrators at the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation in the 1990s, have decided to take the fight against the Liberal government one step further. John Wesley Chisholm and my friend and colleague Paul Kimball have decided to seek the nomination for the progressive Conservative Party in the ridings of Halifax Chebucto and Halifax Needham, respectively.
Both Chisholm and Kimball are highly educated, very articulate, and very media savvy.
In other words, they may just be Stephen McNeil’s worst nightmare.Read more
Howard Epstein’s Rise Again: Nova Scotia’s NDP on the Rocks is part idiosyncratic political memoir and part bitter philippic from someone who was both in the Nova Scotia government from 2009 until 2013, in the sense that he was an MLA of the governing party, but also never really part of the government during the Dexter years due to his exclusion from cabinet – something that clearly still rankles Mr. Epstein, despite his frequent assertions to the contrary.
The book does contain information and perspectives that historians will find useful, and for that reason alone it merits a spot on the shelf of anyone interested in Nova Scotian political history, but when it comes to his central thesis Mr. Epstein singularly fails to make the case that he prosecutes against the 2009 – 2013 NDP government as a sell-out of progressive values. Furthermore, the vision that he offers for rebuilding the party is one rooted in the ideological battles of the 20th century, and not the realities and the very exciting possibilities of the 21st. In a no doubt unintended irony, this self-defined champion of “true” progressive values actually emerges from Rise Again as the most reactionary of all the former members of the NDP government. He is looking backward with a mixture of bitterness and self-righteousness, as opposed to forward with the hope and optimism and spirit of true cooperation that Nova Scotians need now more than ever.Read more
Just taking a moment to answer all the questions I am getting at once about my possible candidacy for the NDP nomination in Halifax Needham.
I had agreed to put my name forward to stand for the NDP nomination here in Needham after having been encouraged to do so by local party members. It was not something I had ever thought of up until then,
I went through the vetting process at the local level, seemingly without issue. My name, along with a few others, was forwarded on to the central party office.
I was informed in a phone call yesterday that I was prohibited from standing by the party head office.
The reason I was given was that my candidacy could prove embarrassing to the party.
What was so embarrassing, you might ask? What was the deep, dark secret?
I said positive things about PC MLA Tim Houston, and I have a scientific and historical interest in the paranormal and the subculture of people who study it.
And that’s it, as far as I was told.
I didn’t think it was possible for a political party in this province to make me feel more unwelcome than the Liberals, but it turns out I was wrong.Read more
This past Monday night I attended a re-zoning meeting concerned with what is known as ‘The Motherhouse Lands’ – a large block of land between the suburbs of Clayton Park and Bridgeview, with a spectacular view of the Bedford Basin thrown in for good measure.
It was for decades the site of the Mount Saint Vincent Motherhouse, once the largest building east of Montreal. The Motherhouse was the home for the Sisters of Charity, until they determined in 2001 that it no longer suited their needs (largely due to the declining population of retired nuns who lived there). The grand old building was demolished several years ago. The current development proposal, from South West Properties, promises all sunshine and lollipops. It’s a special development that places a Spring Garden Road style commercial and office strip of eight and twelve-story buildings, surrounded by a ‘mixed’ range of residences crowned by a single twenty story ‘signature’ building, which was, interestingly enough, not there in the last public meeting. I guess that’s what the developers consider progress.
The breathless exposition by the developers formed the first part of the meeting, as they described how great their plans were. Minutes from the City’s Core! Park and water features! Close to all the amenities! Stable and long-term residences all around! Wonderful neighbours! Dynamic retail opportunities! Etc Etc Etc!
While the developers provided no 3-D imagery for the audience – estimated at over one hundred – the pictures were pretty, dipicting a brown, grey and glass series of Jetsons-style space age buildings. The grid-pattern streets looked neat despite the fact that the steep gradient would play havoc with everything from construction to street safety, whether it be winter or summer.
The only thing missing was a monorail!
Despite all the promises and assurances of Southwest Properties, the only truly viable and community-appropriate use for the Motherhouse Lands is for it to be deeded to Mount Saint Vincent University to retain its current status as ‘Park and Institutional’. It is the only way to guarantee the quality of life for the area’s citizens.
Alas, that was not on the agenda. The city should reconsider, or it risks eroding its relationship with its residents even further.Read more
There are rumors of a fall election here in Nova Scotia. Regardless of whether it happens then, or in 2017, people should consider what kind of political discourse they want to see in this province.
Do we want a campaign about personalities and banal soundbites, or do we want a campaign about real ideas?
If we want to settle for the former, then we’ll do things the way we’ve always done them.
But if we want something better, then we need to do things differently.
My idea? A series of all-candidate debates in every riding, at as many different times and locations as possible. Some could be general, but others could be tailored to specific subjects, such as poverty, or economic development, or the nature of governance and government, or health care. There are plenty of pressing topics from which to choose.
For example, the Liberals axed the film funding system that existed in Nova Scotia for twenty years. The NDP and Tories have criticized this decision, and have made general promises to restore the old film tax credit. Let each party’s candidates in every riding debate the issue, and its larger implications as part of the conversation about the provincial economy and how the government can best help the private sector (or whether they should be helping at all).
Make them tell us their ideas… but also make them listen to ours.
Let’s create a genuine dialogue.
Only then we can make the reasoned and informed choices that our province needs us to make.Read more
I first met Marc Almon back in 1998 when he was the proverbial bright-eyed and bushy-tailed president of the Kings College Independent Film Society and I was the Program Administrator for the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation. Marc had applied for a small operating grant for the society, and while I was inclined to recommend it my boss was less enthusiastic. So I arranged a meeting in which I asked Marc to basically tell me how he wanted me to sell the proposal to my superiors. I left that meeting thinking this was a kid who was going to be a successful film producer someday if he pursued it as a career, because he was passionate and because he was a natural at making the best case for why he and his group deserved the money. Needless to say, they got their grant, and when I attended their annual screening of the short films they made with it some months later, I wasn’t surprised in the least that Marc and KIFS had managed to pack the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.
As it turns out, Marc did indeed pursue a career in filmmaking, and by 2015 had emerged as one of the top up-and-coming young film producers in Canada. He produced the critically-acclaimed and award-winning feature film Blackbird by director Jason Buxton, and had a number of other projects in development.
And then all hell broke loose in April, 2015, when the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil released a budget that contained massive cuts to the Nova Scotia film industry, including the closing down of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia and the slashing of the film tax credit to levels that were simply unworkable for producers. As the chairperson of the fledgling industry association Screen Nova Scotia, Marc was thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, as he led the fight to save the film industry from complete disaster even as he tried to keep his business going and get his own productions financed in a world where the old financing model no longer existed.
It’s a testament to Marc’s ability as both a producer and a leader that he managed to succeed in both tasks. While the film industry in Nova Scotia isn’t what it was prior to the Liberal cuts, it also isn’t gone altogether, and that’s due to the efforts of Marc and his colleagues at Screen Nova Scotia. In terms of his own business, Marc managed to recover from the setback of last April and found a way to pull together the financing to get the feature film Nineteenseventysomething made, directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Daniel MacIvor (the film is currently in post-production, and Marc plans to debut it at this year’s Atlantic Film Festival).
Marc’s term as chairperson of Screen Nova Scotia came to an end last month, so I thought it would be a good time to sit down with him and reflect upon the hectic events of the past couple of years. Here is that conversation.Read more
Screen Nova Scotia released the long-awaited independent study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) yesterday on the economic impact that the Nova Scotia film industry had in Nova Scotia prior to the cuts to the film financing programs and Film and Creative Industries last April by the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil. The PwC Report is detailed, well-researched, methodologically sound, and comprehensive. What is shows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that the film industry as structured prior to the Liberal cuts was a net economic benefit to the Province of Nova Scotia on many levels.
The film & television industry is a net economic benefit for the Province of Nova Scotia, it employs a more highly educated and younger workforce, it is primarily locally owned and operated, and the rate of the tax credit as it stood prior to the Liberal cuts was in line with Ontario and British Columbia, despite the fact that both of these provinces have significant competitive advantages over Nova Scotia in terms of industry resources.
In other words, everything the Liberals have told Nova Scotians about the film and television industry has been false, and remains false. There is no other way to look at it.
The Premier’s response?
He hasn’t read the report, and it won’t make any difference anyway.
And that sums up simply, and sadly, the shameful and incompetent state of governance in Nova Scotia today.Read more
Karla MacFarlane is the Progressive Conservative MLA for Pictou West. The owner and operator of The Ship Hector Company Store in Pictou and an active community volunteer, she was first elected to the House of Assembly in 2013. She is currently a member of the Human Resources and Law Amendments Committees, and is the Progressive Conservative critic for the Environment, Municipal Relations, the Public Service Commission & Communities, Culture & Heritage.
MacFarlane is one of the opposition MLAs who have worked hard to hold the Liberals to account for their disastrous film industry policy. For example, in a letter to the editor of the New Glasgow Evening News that MacFarlane wrote in May, 2015, she noted the film industry controversy within the context of Liberal policies that were on the whole devastating for rural Nova Scotia:
“I went into this session of legislature optimistic about the future of our province and with the hopes of a budget that cut wasteful spending and offered plans for the future and job creation. Instead we got a budget that is taking away jobs and making it more difficult for people and industries, like the film industry, to survive. I voted against the Liberal budget because it does nothing for rural Nova Scotians… During the election campaign in 2013, the Liberals promised the film industry that if elected they would not cut the film tax credit. The McNeil government cut the film tax credit on budget day putting our province at a competitive disadvantage. This is another example of a decision where the full impact of the consequences won’t be felt until it is too late.”
While the Liberals have spent the past year showing Nova Scotians what bad governance looks like, MacFarlane has stood out on the film industry controversy as a dedicated proponent of a system that worked well for twenty years. In the process, she has demonstrated to Nova Scotians that there are informed, reasonable and honest alternatives to the regressive and bad faith austerity-based politics practiced by the government of Stephen McNeil.Read more
The public relations campaign waged by the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil against the film and television industry in this province over the past year has been a textbook example of Swiftboating.
It began when then Finance Minister Diana Whalen made a pre-budget speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on March 25, 2015. In her remarks, which warned of austerity measures to come, she singled out the film tax credit in particular as a program that was “under review” (usually a political euphemism for “on the chopping block”). According to Whalen, the program “costs taxpayers $24 million dollars a year. With it, Nova Scotia tax payers pay up to 65 percent of the eligible salaries for film and television projects. Now by contrast, our payroll rebate program for other industries are capped at 8 to 10 percent for eligible salaries. Surprisingly, within the rules, there is no requirement to film in Nova Scotia. It may be called a tax credit, but it isn’t used to offset taxes that are owed. 99 percent of the money is being paid directly to companies that don’t owe taxes in Nova Scotia.”
In one speech, Whalen had portrayed the film and television industry as a group of money-grubbing fat cats who cost the Province $24 million based on a super-rich subsidy and that had no obligation to even film or pay taxes here. She might as well have included a picture of Scrooge McDuck lounging in his money bin with “Nova Scotia Film Industry” plastered all over it.
The problem was that her statement was a gross distortion of the facts. Nova Scotians deserve better.Read more
I posted my article “Why The Film Industry Controversy Matters To All Nova Scotians” in the Film Nova Scotia group on Facebook, and a reader posted the following comment, which I think is worth a response because it touches on a popular misconception about both the Nova Scotia film and television industry in general, and the areas in which it has the most impact.
“I applaud the effort here,” he wrote, “but I don’t think it’s the correct argument to make (although it is accurate) – at least not to the constituents that matter. After the decision on the tax credit cut, the government popularity *INCREASED* in most rural Liberal ridings. That’s because the government paints film makers as, more or less, ‘godless, scruffy city living hipsters that only work 11 weeks a year.’ That perception, widely held in rural ridings, is never going to change – at least not in a time frame that is useful to us… Add to that the perception that people in the industry make too much money (based on zero data, but still a belief that is widely held among rural Nova Scotians) and you get no sympathy. Combined with the anti-Halifax sentiment, rural Liberal voters are always going to side with the government. The only way to move the government is to change the perception in the ridings where they are most vulnerable. TO do this, we can’t argue trust, or government failure etc. The only thing that may work is to argue directly at the self-interest of the people who vote Liberal in Liberal held ridings.”
In broad strokes, this perception seems accurate. Almost all of the Nova Scotia film and television production companies that form the core of the industry, for example, are based in Halifax, or nearby. The equipment rental companies, such as William F. White, are based here as well. The unions all have their headquarters in Halifax. Film and Creative Industries was located in downtown Halifax before the Liberals closed it down last April, as is the head regional office for Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, the CBC, and so on.
But dig deeper and you see that this perception is fundamentally flawed, because it overlooks the key factor in determining the overall benefits of the film industry to the Nova Scotia economy – where productions are filmed, and the effects that they have in that area.
Indeed, the negative effects of the Liberal government’s actions in dismantling the 20-year old film funding structure and government film agency last April will be most strongly felt not in Halifax, but in the rest of the Province, and work directly against the goal of revitalizing and diversifying the economy of rural Nova Scotia.
In other words, we are all in this together.Read more
Much has been said and written over the past year about the Liberal government’s decision in April 2015 to do away with the government funding structure for the film and television industry that had existed in Nova Scotia for twenty years. Financing structures for the industry are a bit of an arcane art to begin with (as they are with most industries), and it has been made even more difficult for the average Nova Scotian to follow given the fact that there have been different numbers and statistics put forward by both the government and the industry to attempt to justify their respective positions – the industry has largely relied on numbers provided by the former government film agency in previous years along with industry sources such as the Canadian Media Producers Association, while the government has primarily relied on figures provided by the Department of Finance. The issues involved in terms of the actual mechanics of the production and financing system of the Nova Scotian film and television sector, which after all is but a very small part of a much larger globalized multimedia industry, are complex and difficult to distill into media-friendly soundbites. Nova Scotians could be forgiven if they threw up their hands in frustration and said, “we don’t know who is right, and really… why should we care?”
The answer is simple: The film industry controversy centers on two issues of fundamental importance to all Nova Scotians:
(1) Our ability as citizens to trust our government (and our concomitant ability to believe that it is dealing with us in good faith); and
(2) The way that government does business with the private sector.
When we examine how the Liberal government has dealt with the film industry, serious problems are evident on both counts.Read more
If you had to compile a list of the twenty most important and / or influential people in the arts and culture scene in Nova Scotia over the past fifteen years, it would probably include Gregor Ash. Starting from his first arts gig as sales and promotion manager at CKDU radio in 1991 – 1992 through his various key roles in the music industry at the height of the Halifax Pop Explosion to his tenure at the Atlantic Film Festival, first as Operations Manager from 1996 until 2000 and then as the very forward-looking Executive Director of the Festival from 2000 until 2012, Gregor was on the front lines of what was a true Renaissance period for film and music in the province. He has also served as a member of the Nova Scotia Arts & Culture Partnership Council in 2010 – 2011, and as the Director of the Institute of Applied Creativity at NSCAD University from 2012 until 2014. A two time candidate for elected office as a New Democrat (federally in 2011 and provincially in 2013), Gregor currently runs his own independent consultancy firm. I’ve known him since he was at the Film Festival and I was the Program Administrator at the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, and I’ve always had a great deal of respect for his commitment to the arts specifically, and public policy in general. He describes himself on Twitter as “a passionate servant of the Arts, a political junkie, a food lover and proud Newfoundlander, living a content life in the wonderful city of Halifax, Nova Scotia,” and I think that pegs him pretty much spot on. In an industry full of poseurs and provocateurs (and that applies to both the arts and politics), Gregor is genuine,passionate, and hard-working.
I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he would be willing to sit down and discuss his career in the arts and politics to date, and he readily agreed. We finally managed to sync our schedules for Friday afternoon, the 26th of February, and we got together at the Second Cup in the Killam Library at Dalhousie for a wide-ranging conversation about arts, culture, the creative economy, and politics. We had actually been chatting for about twenty minutes – and both of us had been airing our opinions freely – when I finally said to him that I was going to turn my tape recorder on and start the interview. He looked a bit surprised and said that he thought I had begun recording at the beginning. I replied that I would never record anyone without letting them know, and that I thought perhaps what we were talking about might be things that he wouldn’t want on the record.
Gregor laughed. “Screw it,” he said. “Roll the tape!”
So I did.
Here is the conversation that followed – Gregor Ash… unplugged.Read more
In early February I sent all three candidates for the Nova Scotia NDP leadership an e-mail asking them to respond to five questions concerning their policies with respect to arts, culture and the creative economy in the province.
I sent Progressive Conservative Party leader Jamie Baillie the same questions a week later. Like his fellow PC MLA Tim Houston and former interim-NDP leader Maureen MacDonald, among others, Baillie has been outspoken in his criticism of the McNeil government’s policies with respect to the creative economy, particularly after last April’s budget that dismantled Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, failed to implement a sound recording tax credit as the Liberals had promised, and did away with the film tax credit. For example, on April 15, 2015, Baillie rose in the House of Assembly and made the following statement:
“Mr. Speaker, the short-sighted action of the McNeil Liberals is putting in jeopardy 2,700 jobs and an entire young industry. The Premier and Minister of Finance and Treasury Board want to talk about their decision to wipe out the film industry only in terms of tax formulas. They should know there is a human cost to their actions. The industry told the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board yesterday that this plan is not workable. Today we will tell the stories of the producers, directors, caterers, costume designers, and makeup artists, who feel let down by a broken Liberal promise and abandoned by a government that doesn’t see the value of their work. These are real people who are angry and frustrated at the thought of leaving an industry they have built to find work in another province.”
I wanted to give Mr. Baillie the same opportunity as I had given the NDP leadership contenders to set out his views on these questions critical to so many Nova Scotians. Here is his reply.Read more
Several weeks ago I was contacted by an old friend who works the back-rooms of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party when he isn’t working in one of the bright and shiny waterfront towers in downtown Halifax. He wanted to get my thoughts on what he called “the Chinese water torture” that has become the Nova Scotia film industry controversy. As I’m always happy to pontificate if someone else is buying the coffee, and because I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, I readily agreed to sit down and chat.
What follows is a summary of a fairly long and involved back and forth. My answer was simple: fix the industry by lifting the cap on the incentive fund that replaced the film tax credit, and by closing the gap in financing that was created by the loss of equity investment for local productions when Film and Creative Industries was closed last April.Read more
The Nova Scotia New Democratic Party is currently in the final two weeks of a long leadership campaign to determine who will be elected the next leader of the Party. Three candidates entered the race and are now nearing the finish line (voting commences on February 15th and runs until February 27th):
1. Gary Burrill, the MLA from Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley 2009 until 2013.
2. Dave Wilson, the MLA for Sackville-Cobequid since 2003; Wilson served as a cabinet minister in the NDP government from 2011 until 2013, and is the current House Leader for the NDP; and
3. Lenore Zann, the MLA from Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River since 2009, and the current Deputy House Leader for the NDP.
The NDP government from 2009 until 2013 had some significant achievements in terms of policy surrounding the creative economy, and arts & culture in general. From the restoration of the Nova Scotia Arts Council and the passing of the Status of the Artist Act to the establishment of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia and the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council, the NDP government consistently prioritized arts and culture as part of their overall agenda. Unfortunately, much of their work has been undone by the austerity government of Stephen McNeil and the Liberals that defeated the NDP in the 2013 general election. The funding system for the film and television industry has been completely dismantled and replaced with a fund that is simply not working despite the best efforts of the bureaucrats who have been charged with its administration. Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia has been dissolved. Many artists across the Province feel as if the government no longer values their contribution to society in general, and to the economy in particular.
Accordingly, we here at View 902 thought we would take the opportunity to ask the candidates a few questions about what plan they have for the future of arts & culture and the creative economy in Nova Scotia.
Here are their replies.Read more
After a life in politics where he might have been considered the ultimate party man, Steele comes off as remarkably unsentimental, with some industrial-strength insights into Nova Scotia’s rote inability to change. Railing against the “Status Quo,” the former Finance Minister provides an extraordinary portrait of practical politics in a period where the old-line parties are creeping back to the unsavory ways that got us into our current mess. Steele’s vivid and focused view of his time in government from 2009 to 2013 is marked by a refreshing candor that can only help our understanding of the massive challenges Nova Scotia faces, not least of which is a dysfunctional political culture.
For anyone interested in Nova Scotia politics, it is absolutely required reading.Read more
The decision to cut the film tax credit, as well as FCINS and the equity investment and development loan programs, in April 2015 was bad policy-making at its worst, particularly given that it was made without consultation and without real, objective and transparent analysis.Read more
Nova Scotia MLA Dave Wilson, who is in the midst of a campaign for the leadership of the provincial New Democratic Party, has issued a very personal open letter to workers in Nova Scotia’s film and television industry, which has been decimated in the nine months since the April 2015 budget of the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil.Read more